Monday, May 07, 2012

Soccer Dad's MidEast Media Sampler 5/07/12

Today's sampler and analysis of Mideast media content from my pal Soccer Dad:

1) The Times catches up

Perhaps Challah Hu Akbar, Mahmoud Abbas Launches Attack Against InLightPress and Khaled Abu Toameh, Palestinian Authority: Write Only Nice Things About Your Leaders
were the first to note the official censorship of the Palestinian Authority.

In early April, the Washington Post featured an op-ed by David Keyes, Where’s the outcry over Palestinian censorship?
In recent months, Hamas has cracked down on dissidents, women and online activists. It has arrested journalists, banned a social media conference and jailed several bloggers. One university student in Gaza, who asked not to be named, expressed the fears of many when we spoke earlier this year. “Hamas has many modern apparatuses to censor the Internet and telephone systems,” she said. “But even without this, they have infiltrated our society deeply.”
Under Abbas, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has replicated Hamas’s brutality. Slander of high-ranking officials, including the president, is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison. The public prosecutor, Ahmad al-Mughani, said of Abdul-Khaleq’s Facebook criticism, “These expressions go beyond freedom of expression.” A spokesman for Palestinian Authority security forces told journalists that Abdul-Khaleq, who is being held in solitary confinement, was jailed for “extending her tongue” against the president. In fact, she advocated dismantling the Palestinian Authority and called Abbas a “fascist.”

Challah Hu Akbar also followed the travails of InLight Press under the heavy hand of Mahmoud Abbas.

They weren't alone. Other bloggers also noted this news. But until now, the New York Times has been silent. Today, features Arab Spring Spurs Palestinian Journalists to Test Free Speech Limits by Isabel Kershner. (via David Saranga)
And in recent months, on the orders of the attorney general, the authorities have tried to block Palestinians’ access to a number of Web sites that officials said were supportive of Muhammad Dahlan, a onetime Gaza security chief and now a rival of Mr. Abbas.
As Palestinian journalists and activists, imbued with the spirit of the Arab Spring, become more daring and enamored with the possibilities of new media and social networking sites, the primary instinct of some in the Palestinian Authority has been to crack down.
Palestinian society, mostly conservative, has traditionally been served by a staid and obedient news media. But the communications revolution has shaken things up.

The tone here is mostly apologetic. It's not accusatory like last year's, Israel Bans Boycotts Against the State, which featured:
Critics and civil rights groups denounced the new law as antidemocratic and a flagrant assault on the freedom of expression and protest. The law’s defenders said it was a necessary tool in Israel’s fight against what they called its global delegitimization.
Passage of the law followed a string of efforts in the rightist-dominated Parliament to promote legislation that is seen by the more liberal Israelis as an erosion of democratic values.

Of course the difference between the stories is significant. The Palestinian censorship story is about an ongoing policy; the Israeli story was about a law that was passed but not implemented.

Kershner doesn't mention "Palestinian society, mostly conservative, hasn't yet mastered the process of electoral succession," but though this is small progress, it is still progress.

2) When the Times was ahead of the curve.

Khaled Abu Toameh explains What the Palestinians want:

The $147 million that Obama released to the Palestinians will probably help pay salaries of civil servants and improve infrastructure in Palestinian cities and villages, but the aid will surely not change the Palestinians' attitudes toward the US.
The anti-US sentiments are the direct result of incitement by the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinians against the US. Palestinians are reminded almost every day that the US, which has been providing them with billions of dollars, as a foe rather than friend, although no one seems to ask how come a foe is so generous.
US aid should be conditioned not only on transparency and accountability in the Palestinian Authority, but also on an end to the campaign of hatred and incitement, as officially agreed in the Oslo Accords, but never implemented.

A related article by Jonathan Schanzer, The New Palestinian Strategy concludes:
All in all, it is clear that the PLO, the official negotiating partner for Israel since the late 1980s, is now very clearly reconsidering that role. The message is simple: If the Israelis don't give the PLO what it wants—the 1967 borders with minimal land swaps, the release of prisoners, the "right of return" for refugees, and sovereignty over East Jerusalem—it could bypass negotiations altogether and go to the UN. In parallel, it could join hands with Hamas and launch a new round of violence.
The marriage with Hamas might not materialize, or it might consummate and then crumble. Regardless, the PLO's leaders are not interested in reining in the terrorist group. At best, they are happy to use Hamas as leverage for their demands. At worst, they are willing to embrace its violent tactics.
The exact strategy is still a bit fuzzy, but the big picture is clear: Palestinian leaders no longer have any desire to negotiate with Israel. They have a new strategy in the making—one of brinkmanship, violence, or both.

A year ago, in an op-ed in the New York Times, The long overdue Palestinian State, President Abbas explicitly stated that this was his strategy.
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.
This was not condemned ever in an editorial in the New York Times. But even here, Abbas made clear something that Jackson Diehl had reported two years earlier.
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."
For veterans of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Abbas's bargaining position will be bone-wearyingly familiar: Both sides invariably begin by arguing that they cannot act until the other side offers far-reaching concessions. Netanyahu suggested during his own visit to Washington last week that the Palestinians should start by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, though he didn't make it a precondition for meeting with Abbas.
What's interesting about Abbas's hardline position, however, is what it says about the message that Obama's first Middle East steps have sent to Palestinians and Arab governments. From its first days the Bush administration made it clear that the onus for change in the Middle East was on the Palestinians: Until they put an end to terrorism, established a democratic government and accepted the basic parameters for a settlement, the United States was not going to expect major concessions from Israel.

3) Jodi's fans

I've been criticizing and linking to critics of Jodi Rudoren't reporting on Palestinian hunger strikers. But that doesn't mean that the report doesn't have fans. Adam Kredo notes that the report was popular with Richard Silverstein, Phillip Weiss and M. J. Rosenberg. Draw your own conclusions.

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