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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Sunday, December 11.
1) David Weinberg vs. David Weinberg

No it's not a case of a split personality; it's David A. Weinberg vs. David M. Weinberg.

First the "A." Shmuel Rosner interviews David A. Weinberg at his Domain. The interview is titled, ‘When US doesn’t meddle in Israeli politics, it strengthens the right’. Put another way, Having a President hostile to Israel is better for Israel, or simply that American knows better what Israel needs than Israel does.

Weinberg isn't conducting an academic inquiry. Rather he has a conclusion and interpreted all the evidence as supporting his conclusion. Take this response:
Occasionally the U.S. has backed non-Labor politicians in Israel, but only when those politicians display a genuine sensitivity toward U.S. interests and a basic appreciation of making tough sacrifices in pursuit of peace. This is why the US was inclined to bolster and cooperate with Moshe Arens in 1983 as well as Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi Livni in the past decade, even though none of them were hardcore lefties.
On the other hand, American presidents have generally seemed to conclude that PM Netanyahu, like Yitzhak Shamir before him, is not adequately sensitive to American interests or the urgency of the peace process. They tend to see Netanyahu as bad for American interests and even bad for Israeli interests in the long term.
Let's look at Clinton's record. He was frustrated with Netanyahu, even though Netanyahu was simply demanding that the Palestinians observed the commitments they signed. He then worked to get Netanyahu's rival, Ehud Barak elected. While in office, Barak withdrew the IDF from southern Lebanon. Rather than disabling the threat from Hezbollah, it emboldened the terrorist group, which continued attacking Israel for the next 6 years until the threat became so great Israel could ignore it no more. Barak also agreed to the Camp David summit, where, though he offered Arafat nearly everything it would take to make peace, Arafat refused to make a deal. In order to deflect blame from himself, two months later he launched the so-called "Aqsa intifada," costing hundreds of Israel lives before it was defeated.

Clinton got what he wanted but it's hard to conclude that the results of the more cooperative Barak promoted Israeli or American interests.

Furthermore, David A. Weinberg argues that even an unpopular President Obama could effectively push Netanyahu without suffering politically in Israel, citing the example of President George H.W. Bush. Bush pushed PM Shamir and in the end Shamir lost the political battle, as he was voted out of office in 1992. Of course, 1992, was before the failed Camp David summit in 2000. It was before the withdrawal from southern Lebanon. And it was before the withdrawal from Gaza. Needless to say, the Israeli electorate remembers the results of these events better than Weinberg, and would mostly support their Prime Minister against a meddling president.

Weinberg's premise is that the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East is any Israeli refusal to be reasonable.

On the other side is David M. Weinberg. In Embracing Optimism he writes:
There is also no diplomatic tsunami: The Palestinian Authority’s rush to statehood at the UN has been halted in its tracks, and observers are beginning to catch on that the Palestinians really are not ready for statehood. The elephant in the room – the Iranian-backed Hamas government in Gaza and the growing Hamas influence within the PA – is simply too large to ignore.
Talk to any level-headed Western diplomat today and, after peeling away the standard layers of political correctness, you’ll find that it is sinking in that the chances for a “comprehensive peace deal that settles all claims” between Israel and the PA is simply not in the cards; not at anytime in the foreseeable future.
The hackneyed notion that “all it would take for peace is an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines” – is fading. In private, policy-makers – even European diplomats – talk quietly about long-term conflict management; not about grand conflict resolution. As Vice Premier and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe ‘Bogie’ Yaalon says: “Solutionism” is the wrong paradigm. This is a good thing, and a useful thing, because comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace – which we all want – requires the dialing-down of Palestinian demands and expectations. And that is going to take time. Serious people understand this.
Clearly David A. Weinberg is not serious.

2) Gingrich vs. the Middle East conventional wisdom

Republican candidate has been shaking up the media class with his pronouncements on the Middle East. First he promised to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. This led to a fact check that included:
If the United States were to move its embassy in the absence of a peace deal, the act would be a symbolically explosive step. It would be seen as a prejudgment of those negotiations and spark anger throughout the Arab world. It also would destroy any appearance that the U.S. can be a credible and neutral mediator in peace talks.
James Taranto critiqued the fact check in the brilliantly titled Newt year in Jerusalem:
The factual content of this paragraph is zero; it is pure speculation and opinion. It may be realistic speculation and informed opinion, but the language of certitude does not turn a statement about what may happen under a hypothetical circumstance into a fact.
It would not have been hard to recast this story to make it journalistically sound, though it would have entailed a bit more work. Gearan could have begun by reporting the Gingrich promise, then put it in historical context by noting the record of other presidents. The arguments for why such a move is a bad idea could have been aired, too--not in Gearan's own voice, but by interviewing diplomats or scholars who think it's a bad idea. It might also have been worthwhile to seek a follow-up interview with Gingrich or a spokesman to ask why voters should expect him to keep this promise when past presidents haven't.
Instead, the AP published what is essentially an opinion piece, and a rather lazy one at that. If we may borrow Gingrich's favorite word, to label that a "fact check"--as if it had some greater authority than actual reporting--is fundamentally dishonest.
But Gingrich didn't leave it at that, he went further late last week.
Gingrich differed with official U.S. policy that respects the Palestinians as a people deserving of their own state based on negotiations with Israel.
"Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire" until the early 20th century, Gingrich said.
"I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it's tragic," he said.
The New York Times reported Gingrich Suggests a Reversal of Mideast Policy:
Does Newt Gingrich believe in a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Democratic and Republican administrations since the 1990s have adopted that framework for peace in the Middle East, but Mr. Gingrich suggested that he might break with it, calling Palestinians an “invented” people and the current stalled peace process “delusional.”
He also said the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which has pledged to respect Israel’s right to exist, really harbors “an enormous desire to destroy Israel.”
The second paragraph, in particular, is troubling. About that pledge ... Consider the latest makeup of the "moderate" Fatah Central Committee; or the latest iteration of the Fatah Charter; or the recent news that the Palestinian mission to Britain violated advertising standards by claiming Haifa and Jaffa to be part of Palestine (actually the latest in a long line of such distortions) - it is hardly outrageous to claim that the Palestinians, in breach of their pledge, do wish the destruction of Israel.

However the New York Times does better than AP and gets sources who dispute Gingrich.

First up is Martin Indyk:
Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel, said that if Mr. Gingrich believed that Palestinians did not have a right to an independent state, “as implied in his language, then he’s not pro-Israel at all.”
“Because the government of Israel under Prime Minister Netanyahu supports a two-state solution,” Mr. Indyk said. “The people of Israel — an overwhelming majority of them — support a two-state solution, in which there would be an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure state of Israel.”
And second is David A. Harris:
David A. Harris, chief executive of the National Jewish Democratic Council, an American Jewish group, said Mr. Gingrich’s views reversed decades of American policy by both Democratic and Republican administrations.
“This is as clear a demonstration as one needs that he’s not ready for prime time,” Mr. Harris said.
While this article is better than the fact check the experts the reporter questioned aren't disinterested. Amb. Indyk was of course deeply involved in the peace process. If Indyk's assumptions were correct we would have had peace between Israel and the Palestinians in July 2000. His assumptions, however, were wrong. Of course, he can't admit that.

David Harris is, of course, with a group of American Jews who support the Democratic Party. Nothing wrong with that. But neither is he disinterested. And if the argument that abandoning decades of American policy is a sign that a candidate isn't ready for prime time, that's a charge that could reasonably be leveled against his preferred candidate in 2012.

Both the AP "fact check" and the New York Times article article proceed from a false premise. That premise is that the stalled peace process is an unarguably good thing that will bring peace under the proper conditions. Implicit, too, is that it is only Israel (or, if you prefer, Netanyahu) that is preventing the proper conditions from being realized.

I found this editorial in the Washington Post from shortly after Netanyahu's formation of a new government in March, 2009.
Though he has promised to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Netanyahu has never endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state ... The remaining problem is how to respond to Mr. Netanyahu's failure to accept Palestinian statehood, which in the past decade has become the anchor of U.S. policy in the region.
A few months later Netanyahu publicly announced his support for a Palestinian state. Yet even now Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the "moderate" Fatah faction of the Palestinian Authority still refuses to accept Israel as a Jewish state.

This microcosm shows the imbalance between the two sides and the faulty premise of the peace process. One need not endorse all of Gingrich's points - though there are solid arguments supporting them - to see that's what's more important is that he doesn't accept the prevailing conventional wisdom that Israel - not the Palestinians - are fundamentally responsible for the failure of the peace process.

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At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“This is as clear a demonstration as one needs that he’s not ready for prime time,” Mr. Harris said. ------ Newt not ready for prime time? Maybe a more accurate term would be Prime Time isn't ready for Newt. I would love to see a debate between Newt and Mr. Harris.


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