Monday, January 07, 2013

Soccer Dad's Mideast Media Roundup, 1/7/13

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

 1) An intellectually honest editorial

Daled Amos and Israel Matzav linked to a Washington Post editorial, Overheated rhetoric on Israeli settlements:
Overall, the vast majority of the nearly 500,000 settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank live in areas close to Israel’s 1967 borders. Data compiled by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace show that more than 80 percent of them could be included in Israel if the country annexed just more than 4 percent of the West Bank — less than the 5 percent proposed by President Bill Clinton 12 years ago. Diplomats were most concerned by Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to allow planning and zoning — but not yet construction — in a four-mile strip of territory known as E-1 that lies between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement with a population of more than 40,000. Palestinians claim that Israeli annexation of the land would cut off their would-be capital in East Jerusalem from the West Bank and block a key north-south route between West Bank towns. Israel wants the land for similar reasons, to prevent Ma’ale Adumim — which will almost certainly be annexed to Israel in any peace deal — from being isolated. Both sides insist that the other can make do with a road corridor. This is a difficult issue that should be settled at the negotiating table, not by fiat. But Mr. Netanyahu’s zoning approval is hardly the “almost fatal blow” to a two-state solution that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described.

I won't pretend to agree with some of the criticism of Israel in the editorial, but this is a very important point. Nothing Israel is doing endangers the peace process.

In praising this editorial, Barry Rubin explains two ways in which the settlement blame game is wrong:  
First: the day after the Israel-PLO agreement was signed in 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made it clear that Israel’s interpretation was that it permitted continued construction on existing settlements. The Palestinian Authority did not object, and that policy did not prevent it from negotiating over the next seven years.
Misrepresentations — deliberately? — often make people think that Israel is establishing new settlements or expanding the size of existing ones. Both claims are untrue.
Second: if the Palestinian side wants an end to settlements, that should be an incentive for reaching a peace agreement faster and thus getting rid of all settlements on the territory of the new state of Palestine. Notice that Israel — under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, no less — demolished all of the settlements in the Gaza Strip as, among other things, a sign of what could be gained by a peace deal.
Yet the Palestinian side has been in no hurry to make a deal. In theory, when it complains about settlements, the response should be: “So why don’t you compromise for peace and get rid of them, rather than having them become ‘larger?’”
This is important. It means that those who complain that settlements are destroying the peace process are really the ones who are preventing peace. They are providing cover for the Palestinians, who refuse to negotiate in good faith with Israel. If Abbas knew that elite world opinion thought he was the obstructionist, he might be inclined to negotiate. Since he knows that the "settlements" excuse exists he can drag his feet, feigning outrage and pay no price - diplomatic or political - for his obstinacy and get Israel blamed in the bargain, he has no incentive to negotiate.

The editorial is extraordinary for another reason. Shortly after Binyamin Netanyahu formed a new government in 2009, The Washington Post ran an editorial, Israel's new Government and Palestinian Statehood, that concluded:
The problem with that course is that it could deliver a fatal blow to the two-state solution, which most Israelis recognize as the only way to preserve a democratic Jewish state. As outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert understood, the time for that solution may be running out. It is vital that the United States and European governments insist on Israeli acceptance of it -- just as they have done with Palestinian governments -- and that they publicly oppose actions that could undermine it, such as settlement expansion. If that creates tension between the United States and Israel in the short run, the result may be productive. Israelis -- starting with Mr. Netanyahu -- need to get the message that acceptance of a two-state solution has become a prerequisite for normal relations with the United States.  
Four years ago the Washington Post viewed the newly elected Prime Minister Netanyahu the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East. What's changed?

A few months later, a member of the of the editorial board (and former Jerusalem correspondent for the paper) Jackson Diehl wrote Abbas's waiting game on peace with Israel:
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.
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.
Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel. He has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud. "The Americans are the leaders of the world," Abbas told me and Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. "They can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, 'You have to comply with the conditions.' "
Last year, in Mahmoud Abbas's unhappy anniversary, Diehl wrote:
Abbas’s defenders will claim that Netanyahu’s right-wing government, and the Obama administration’s inability to influence it, left him with few options. That’s a canard. In fact, Abbas has never seriously tested the Israeli leader. He could have done that by fully committing to the negotiations the Obama administration tried to organize or to those sponsored by Jordan’s King Abdullah this year. That would have forced Netanyahu to reveal his terms for Palestinian statehood — and brought real pressure to bear on him if they were unreasonable.
Instead, Abbas has repeatedly backed away from serious diplomacy, citing as an excuse Israeli settlement construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank — something that did not stop him from participating in negotiations with previous Israeli governments. He embarked on his unity-U.N.-intifada strategy on the premise that it would bring about Palestinian statehood without the need for negotiations with Netanyahu.
And, not for the first time, Mahmoud Abbas succeeded only in delaying Palestinian statehood — and weakening his own cause.
I believe that Jackson Diehl was the mover behind last week's editorial, as he was watched Mahmoud Abbas closely over the past four years. This is the way journalism should work. opinions and reporting should be based on observations not unsupported allegations. As the editors of the New York Times becomes even more unhinged when discussing Israel, it's encouraging that another important paper can discuss Israel soberly.

Postscript: On Twitter two of those to criticize the editorial were M. J. Rosenberg and Lara Friedman. Rosenberg a known anti-Zionist accused editorial page editor (and Diehl's boss) Fred Hiatt of being an "Israel firster." Friedman a leader of the supposedly pro-Israel group, Americans for Peace Now, cited anti-Zionist Matt Duss. See item #2 below.

2) Zealots, the truth and polls

Recently, a campaign to support the flagging nomination of Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense began. Part of that campaign were two op-eds in the New York Times casting opponents of Hagel as extremists. One by longtime political correspondent James Besser asserted:
There is also a lesson here for American Jewish leaders, who increasingly tremble in the face of a small minority of zealots, whose vision of Israel’s future diverges from that of the majority of American Jews and clashes with core American values of freedom and democracy.
The other by regular columnist Thomas Friedman argued:
The only thing standing between Israel and national suicide any more is America and its willingness to tell Israel the truth. But most U.S. senators, policy makers and Jews prefer to stick their heads in the sand, because confronting Israel is so unpleasant and politically dangerous.
In different ways both argued that mainstream support for Israel is driven by fanatics who are divorced from reality and that support for Hagel, came from thoughtful people free from ideological blinders. It's interesting to revisit these arguments in light of a recent poll of American views towards the Middle East. (via Daily Alert)
There continue to be stark partisan differences in Middle East sympathies. Conservative Republicans maintain strong support for Israel with fully 75% saying they sympathize with Israel compared with just 2% who sympathize with the Palestinians. By contrast, liberal Democrats are much more divided: 33% sympathize more with Israel, 22% with the Palestinians. Independents sympathize more with Israel by a 47% to 13% margin.
There were two other categories, but the only group that didn't have a preference for Israel over the Palestinians by at least 3 to 1 was those self-identified as "liberal Democrats."

Friedman and Besser comfortably fit in the liberal Democrat, the least pro-Israel, grouping. Each, in his own way, from that perspective, accuses the mainstream pro-Israel organizations of being out of touch and in agreement with extremists.

I pointed this out to Barry Rubin who summarized the phenomenon like this:
Option 1: Israel is at fault for losing the Obama cult crowd and a small but vocal increasingly left-wing sector of Americans (many of whom aren’t that thrilled with the United States either).

Option 2: Given an increasingly left-wing ideology that’s based on faulty assumptions and neglects the dangerous radicalism of Islamist forces and other enemies of America, it is the dominant worldview in the mass media, academia, and ruling circles in America that is to blame for turning away from Israel.

Understand this well: Option 1 requires Israel to change; Option 2 requires the people voicing such complaints about Israel to change. Well, these people don’t want to examine their assumptions and change their views. They’d end up suffering for their support of Israel, they’d be out of step with the mob; they might have to—shudder!—step away from what’s popular and “in.” My goodness, they might even have to question Obama’s brilliance and policies!
No contest. So it’s not surprising that Option 1 wins out. Hey, do what you have to do to avoid admitting your wrong and paying some price for telling the truth. But don’t blame us.
When J-Street was founded, its supporters claimed that it represented the true consensus of pro-Israel Americans. More specifically they claimed that there needed to be an alternative to AIPAC, which was too "right wing." Now, more than four years later, AIPAC is still the main pro-Israel lobby and J-Street remains marginal. The market for J-Street's pro-Israel views is rather limited.

If groups claiming to be "pro-peace" don't have much traction in the pro-Israel community, who are their allies?

This leads to another phenomenon. Last week, Haviv Rettig Gur wrote How the Hagel nomination battle became a fight over the Israel lobby. Part of Gur's argument is:
And opposition has even come from gay rights groups, including the Human Rights Campaign. Though Hagel has apologized for comments made in the 1990s that seemed to denigrate gays, the criticism has continued from some quarters of the gay rights movement, especially on the right. In the latest critique, published in a full-page ad in the New York Times on Thursday, the pro-gay rights Republican group Log Cabin Republicans urged supporters to “tell President Obama that Chuck Hagel is wrong for Defense Secretary” and expressed support for “a stronger and more inclusive Republican Party.”

Hagel’s supporters have responded vigorously to the agitation of the Israel lobby, and in the process perhaps sought to crowd out opposition to Hagel that can’t be as easily dismissed as illegitimate and – Zbigniew Brzezinski said it outright – disloyal.

What's shocking isn't that there is strong support for Israel in America, but that a significant minority of the political elite are willing to disparage this support in such crude terms.

While Besser or Friedman might claim that they are pro-Israel or looking out for Israel's best interests, what's undeniable is that they find themselves closer to those who would suggest that Israel's supporters are guilty of dual loyalty than to mainstream pro-Israel opinion. They don't realize how far they have migrated.

Richard Baehr has related thoughts about American public opinion regarding Israel.

3) The "realist" paradox

Jackson Diehl, in an essay today, The Middle East Morass writes:

In Washington, some of the loudest calls for Obama’s reengagement come from the “realist” foreign policy camp, populated by figures such as former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft — and former senator Chuck Hagel, whom Obama is considering for defense secretary. These folks opposed the war in Iraq, and they reject U.S. intervention in Syria or military action against Iran’s nuclear program. They have been arguing for years that it is time for the United States to recognize limits to its power.

When it comes to Israel, however, the realists assume boundless U.S. strength. If only he chooses to do so, they argue, Obama could join with U.S. allies or the U.N Security Council in imposing a two-state solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, like it or not. The supposition seems to be that a United States too weak to force Bashar al-Assad out of Syria can compel Israel’s advanced democracy and the leaderless Palestinians to accept compromises they have resisted for decades.
I don't buy everything in this essay. I'm not convinced of the good intentions of Brent Scowcroft or Zbigniew Brzezinski. However this is an important point.

Instapundit points to a paradox in Senator Hagel's expected nomination.

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