Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Soccer Dad's Mideast Media Sampler 08/03/11‏

Today's rundown on Middle East commentary by my old blogging pal Soccer Dad:

1) AIPAC or State?

The story's been reported for little more than a day now. Here's the version in the New York Daily News:

Israel signaled Tuesday it is ready to show some "flexibility" in its border stalemate with the Palestinians, prompting hope that Middle East peace talks can be revived.
Up until now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has staunchly opposed a proposal by President Obama that boundaries for a future Palestine be based on the pre-1967 Mideast war lines.
But Tuesday, an Israeli official told The Associated Press that Netanyahu is "willing to show some flexibility" on the border issue.

Had PM Netanyahu really changed his mind, after vehemently disagreeing with President Obama's formulation about peace being based on the 1967 border?

Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post explains:

This speech explained in greater detail what Obama had said three days earlier at the State Department. That speech raised Netanyahu’s ire because it called for an agreement based on the pre-1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps.

To the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, however, Obama explained more fully what he had in mind.

What he meant, Obama had said, was that the parties themselves “will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation.

It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.

So this gives the President some room to back down from his State Department speech. (Perhaps those who have worked on the issue for a "generation" know that this is what will bring peace, but the Palestinians - Arafat in 2000 and Abbas in 2008 - rejected proposals based on this "well known formula.")

That what the Americans and Israelis are working on, is different from (or at least better explained than) President Obama's State Department speech hasn't stopped some from concluding (as we saw above in the Daily News story) that Netanyahu has changed his position.

That led a leftist, Adam Serwer to write an article with the provocative headline: Is Bibi anti-Israel?

The idea of using the 1967 lines with swaps as a framework for negotiations was nothing new, of course, but that didn’t stop opportunists from distorting the president’s position, and Republicans from launching another round of “the Jews are abandoning Obama” stories and accusing the president of being too sympathetic to the Palestinians. Some even claimed that it’s hard to distinguish the administration’s stance from that of the Palestinians. Well now it’s Netanyahu’s position too. Perhaps he’s also a dreaded Palestinian sympathizer?

Of course the problem wasn't just what the President had said, but how he had said it: A Washington Post editorial at the time explains:

Mr. Obama’s intention is to persuade Mr. Abbas to give up his U.N. bid and return to negotiations with Israel. To do so, he endorsed one of the conditions Palestinians have tried to set for talks: that they be based on Israel’s 1967 border lines, with swaps of land to accommodate large Jewish settlements in the West Bank. This is not a big change in U.S. policy. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, along with previous Israeli governments, have supported the approach.
But Mr. Netanyahu has not yet signed on, and so Mr. Obama’s decision to confront him with a formal U.S. embrace of the idea, with only a few hours’ warning, ensured a blowup. Israeli bad feeling was exacerbated by Mr. Obama’s failure to repeat past U.S. positions — in particular, an explicit stance against the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

With is State Department speech, President Obama picked a fight with PM Netanyahu. Now both countries are working together. But that doesn't mean that President Obama was blameless for using the "1967 borders" formulation in his speech.

In related news, the EU is looking to water down the Palestinian statehood resolution (h/t Challah Hu Akbar) :

The Europeans are lobbying the Palestinians to bring a “softer” resolution to the UN General Assembly – if they do intend to go that route – that would recognize the right of a Palestinian state, one that would live in peace and security alongside Israel, without outright recognizing that such a state exists now.

Such a resolution, Israeli officials said, would not differ significantly from similar resolutions that have been passed by the General Assembly a number of times in the past.

The Europeans are looking for a formula that would enable countries like Germany and Italy, which have said they were opposed to unilateral Palestinian steps in the UN, to vote as a bloc with countries like Ireland and Portugal, widely expected to support a Palestinian state resolution.

The reporter, Herb Keinon, doesn't think that the Palestinians will agree.

More and more it looks like the "diplomatic tsunami" will be more like a low tide.

2) The cheap columnist

I have little respect for "Turnip Truck Tom" Friedman. He is intellectually lazy and substitutes soundbites for real analysis. In his book "From Beirut to Jerusalem" he coined the term "Hama rules." In a rather nasty column War Timeout War Timeout, last year, Friedman dusted off his famous formulation.

Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars — and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.
What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call “Hama Rules” — which are no rules at all. “Hama Rules” are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.

There's nothing wrong with writing that Israel struck back hard against the PA, Hezbollah and Hamas, but to write that Israel observed no rules is calumny. Last night, I re-read Friedman's account of what happened in Hama, he knows that there's no comparison between Israel's counter attacks and Assad's brutal massacre. But he must have felt he had a catchphrase, so he had to use it whether or not it was appropriate. It was certainly easier to turn his formulation into a cliche than to actually analyze what happened.

Not too surprisingly, today's column is called "The New Hama Rules."

It worked for a long time in Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, etc., until it didn’t. Today, Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, Hafez’s son, is now repeating his father’s mass murdering tactics to quash the new Syrian uprising, again centered in Hama. But, this time, the Syrian people are answering with their own Hama Rules, which are quite remarkable. They say: “We know that every time we walk out the door to protest, you will gun us down, without mercy. But we are not afraid anymore, and we will not be powerless anymore. Now, you leaders will be afraid of us. Those are our Hama Rules.”
This is the struggle today across the Arab world — the new Hama Rules versus the old Hama Rules — “I will make you afraid” versus “We are not afraid anymore.”

I would say that this is clever, but "Hama rules" in his book was a fully developed idea. It wasn't just his formulation of "no rules" but an involved explanation as to how the concept evolved. Coining a new "Hama rules" robs the original of its meaning.

Friedman has, once again, cheapened his own work.

The thesis of today's column is that something has changed in the Arab world, though we may not see the results for ten or fifteen years. There are those who would disagree.

3) Bad guarantees

After critiquing an extremely diplomatic statement by a UN observer regarding Lebanon, Barry Rubin observes:

Imagine if you will how UN and international guarantees would work with a Palestinian state. Would the General Assembly vote to condemn Palestine for breaking its commitments? Would any foreign “peacekeeping” force that was part of a peace treaty ever act forcefully to stop weapons or terrorists from crossing the border into Palestine? Would they fight to stop terrorists from crossing the border from Palestine into Israel?
Of course not. Yet that point is not taken into account by any Western government, academic study, or mass media coverage. But it is taken into account by Israel. Otherwise we will read about the UN special envoy for Israel-Palestine peacekeeping talking about how well things are going as incitement, terrorism, and violations of the agreement take place daily.

To sharpen his point, it's not just that the UN and various peace processors will ignore Palestinian violations, it's that they also ignore very real Israeli concessions.

In October 2000, a few months after the UN certified that Israel had complied with Security Council resolution 425 and had totally withdrawn its troops from Lebanon, Hezbollah ambushed, kidnapped and killed three Israeli soldiers. Not only did Israel's withdrawal generate no good will on behalf of the UN, the UN abetted and then covered up this violation of the international border.

Also in his column Israel's Electoral Insanity from May, 1999, Charles Krauthammer observed about PM Netanyahu:

On the one hand, he brought almost the entire nationalist, conservative half of the Israeli electorate into the inevitable peace process. He was the man who got Likud to give up Hebron and sign on to the Wye agreement, thus committing all of Israel to accepting "land-for-peace," a partition of the Land of Israel with the Palestinians.

Even now the same people who cover for Palestinian (and other Arab) terror against Israel treat Netanyahu as an extremist even though he's done more for their cause of peace than any Palestinian leader since 1993.

When Israel's enemies suffer no criticism and Israel gets little or no credit, why should Israel have faith in the process?

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