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Monday, December 05, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Monday, December 5.
1) Actually, the Palestinians admit this themselves

As the statements by Ambassador Gutman and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta make news, there has been some pushback. The AP reports Israel blames Palestinians for deadlock in talks, says leadership’s aim is to boycott Israel:
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel remains ready for the resumption of peace talks without preconditions. The Palestinians, he said, are “playing diplomatic games to try to cover their position, which is to boycott Israel and to refuse to enter negotiations.”
While Regev's statements certainly can be described as "blame," he's hardly the only source. What about Mahmoud Abbas himself?

As far as boycotting Israel, this is what Abbas wrote in an op-ed in the New York Time back in May:
Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.
And shortly after President Obama's election, Jackson Diehl interviewed Abbas who said:
Yet on Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait for Hamas to capitulate to his demand that any Palestinian unity government recognize Israel and swear off violence. And he will wait for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.
Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won't even agree to help Obama's envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. "We can't talk to the Arabs until Israel agrees to freeze settlements and recognize the two-state solution," he insisted in an interview. "Until then we can't talk to anyone."
It's Abbas himself who acknowledged that he wished to make the conflict with Israel a legal one (of which a boycott is a component) and who has refused to negotiate. There is support for the Israeli claims. Not that I'd expect a regular reporter to do the basic research to prove such a claim.

2) What's delegitimization and what's criticism?

Last week "pro-Israel activist" Steve Sheffey wrote a column for the Jerusalem Post, The campaign to delegitimize President Obama. The sub-head read: "Opponents of territorial compromise are terrified Obama is serious about helping Israel realize dream of 2 states living side by side."

As noted above, President Obama's promises to pressure Israel had the effect of convincing Abbas he had no reason to negotiate. In fact when PM Netanyahu instituted a freeze on Jewish building in Judea and Samaria, Abbas still refused to negotiate until the final weeks of the freeze and then left negotiations when Netanyahu refused to extend the freeze. In other words, President Obama's stance made a negotiated settlement less, not more likely.

So how President Obama is helping realize a two state solution, hasn't exactly worked out.

Unfortunately the Jerusalem Post only identified Sheffey as a "pro-Israel" activist, it doesn't mention that he is frequently quoted about Israel at the National Jewish Democratic Council's website. While I don't know if Sheffey is officially part of the NJDC, he clearly has a relationship with the organization. As it happens the former head of the NJDC, Ira Forman has been appointed the head of Jewish community outreach for the Obama campaign.

This is important as Sheffey's name calling has been a favorite tactic of Forman. To Sheffey or Forman the people who would not support President Obama are, at best, uninformed or, at worst, bigots. Sheffey's alliance with Forman is evident from the similar tactics both employ. This is the sort of outreach - "smackdown" might be a better description - we can expect from the Obama campaign over the next 11 months.

What's ever more frustrating is that Sheffey used the term "delegitimize," when the proper term was criticize. Currently Israel's "peace partners" are engaged in a campaign of delegitimization against Israel, and the Obama administration still insists that Israeli building apartments in Jerusalem is a bigger impediment to peace than the refusal of even Fatah to recognize Israel's right to exist.

3) If great mind thinks alike, do not such great minds also think alike?

Postcard From Cairo, Part 2 by Thomas Friedman February 13, 2011
I am more worried today about Israel’s future than I have ever been, because I think that at time of great change in this region – and we have just seen the beginnings of it – Israel today has the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet it has ever had.
Rather than even listening to what the democracy youth in Tahrir Square were saying and then trying to digest what it meant, this Israeli government took two approaches during the last three weeks: Frantically calling the White House and telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh – to the point where the White House was thoroughly disgusted with its Israeli interlocutors – and using the opportunity to score propaganda points: “Look at us! Look at us! We told you so! We are the only stable country in the region, because we are the only democracy.’’
Israel’s government seemed oblivious to the irony of its message: “We are your only reliable ally because we are a democracy and whatever you do don’t abandon Mubarak and open the way there for democracy.’’
I have no idea who Friedman's sources were in the administration who were "disgusted" with Israel's approach to the "Arab spring" in Egypt. But apparently they were in agreement with Friedman's dismissal of Israeli concerns.

Them a few months ago we were treated to Obama seeks reset in Arab world:
At night in the family residence, an adviser said, Mr. Obama often surfs the blogs of experts on Arab affairs or regional news sites to get a local flavor for events. He has sounded out prominent journalists like Fareed Zakaria of Time magazine and CNN and Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist at The New York Times, regarding their visits to the region. “He is searching for a way to pull back and weave a larger picture,” Mr. Zakaria said.
Mr. Obama has ordered staff members to study transitions in 50 to 60 countries to find precedents for those under way in Tunisia and Egypt. They have found that Egypt is analogous to South Korea, the Philippines and Chile, while a revolution in Syria might end up looking like Romania’s.
This deliberate, almost scholarly, approach is in keeping with Mr. Obama’s style, one that has frustrated people who believe he is too slow and dispassionate. But officials said it also reflected his own impatience, two years after he gave a speech in Cairo intended to mend America’s relations with the Muslim world, that many of these countries remained mired in corruption.
Note the way that this is portrayed. The reporter - or hagiographer - tells us that Obama is scholarly, noting that his people have looked for historical precedents - none of which seem to account for the role of Islam - and he seeks out experts like Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria.

But there's nothing scholarly here. Friedman and Zakaria reinforce the President's views, not challenge them. A scholar would be looking for rigor not affirmation.

In his much talked about speech last week, Secretary of Defense Panetta said:
Ultimately, the dream of a secure, prosperous, Jewish and democratic Israel can only be achieved with two states living side by side in peace and in security with full confidence that the United States is willing and capable of ensuring that Israel can safeguard its security as it takes the risks needed to pursue peace. Now is the time for Israel to take bold action and to move towards a negotiated two-state solution.
I recognize that there is a view that this is not the time to pursue peace and that the Arab awakening further imperils the dream of a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic Israel. But I disagree with that view. I believe Israel will ultimately be safer when other Middle Eastern states adopt governments that respond to their people, promote equal rights, promote free and fair elections, uphold their international commitments, and join the community of free and democratic nations.
I believe it is the only real long-term path to security and prosperity and to realize the vision of Yitzhak Rabin for a sustainable peace in the Middle East.
In his latest column Israel and the Arab Awakening, Thomas Friedman wrote:
Israel’s fear of Islamists taking power all around it cannot be dismissed. But it is such a live possibility precisely because of the last 50 years of Arab dictatorship, in which only Islamists were allowed to organize in mosques while no independent, secular, democratic parties were allowed to develop in the political arena. This has given Muslim parties an early leg up. Arab dictators were convenient for Israel and the Islamists — but deadly for Arab development and education. Now that the lid has come off, the transition will be rocky. But, it was inevitable, and the new politics is just beginning: Islamists will now have to compete with legitimate secular parties.
This is such a delicate moment. It requires wise, farsighted Israeli leadership. The Arab awakening is coinciding with the last hopes for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli rightists will be tempted to do nothing, to insist the time is not right for risk-taking — and never will be — so Israel needs to occupy the West Bank and its Palestinians forever. That could be the greatest danger of all for Israel: to wake up one day and discover that, in response to the messy and turbulent Arab democratic awakening, the Jewish state sacrificed its own democratic character.
The sentiments expressed are nearly identical. How must Israel deal with turmoil in the Middle East? By pursuing peace. The American Secretary of Defense and the American columnist are on the same page regarding Israel.

(Also, note that now Friedman is agreeing with Israeli concerns - before dismissing them, again. But it also contradicts his tirade from February. Back then, Israel's leadership didn't know what was doing. Now, according to Friedman, Israel's fears weren't unfounded, but it's still wrong.)

These three instances show how closely the administration's views match those of Thomas Friedman. No doubt, the politicians didn't need Friedman to teach them anything about the Middle East; they formed their own opinions independently of him. As Barry Rubin observed, "stupid minds, like great ones, think alike."

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