October 21, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for February 9, 2012


1) Apartments are such a clear obstacle to peace

Two years ago, Israel's housing ministry announced that 1600 new apartments would be built in Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem, while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel. The Washington Post reported:

"I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," Biden said in a statement released during the meal. "The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I've had here in Israel."

"We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them," Biden added, just hours after he had declared there was a "real opportunity" for talks to move forward.

The future of Jerusalem is a central dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resolution of which has eluded U.S. peace negotiators for decades. U.S. mediator George Mitchell has been exploring creative peacemaking formulas that would push the Jerusalem question to later in the negotiations and begin with talks on borders for a future Palestinian state and security arrangements.

Of course the New York Times opined in Diplomacy 102:

The Obama administration is understandably furious. Mr. Biden was in Israel working to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The word came after he had spent the day vowing the United States’ “absolute, total and unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.”

Not everyone saw it this way. An editorial in the Washington Post, The U.S. Quarrel with Israel:

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S Middle East diplomacy failed in his first year in part because he chose to engage in an unnecessary and unwinnable public confrontation with Israel over Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Over the past six months Mr. Obama's envoys gingerly retreated from that fight and worked to build better relations with the government of Binyamin Netanyahu. Last week the administration finally managed to strike a deal for the launching of indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks. So it has been startling — and a little puzzling — to see Mr. Obama deliberately plunge into another public brawl with the Jewish state.

The end of the editorial pointed out that the gratuitous escalation by the administration "… invariably prompts still harsher rhetoric,
and elevated demands, from Palestinian and other Arab leaders."  So the administration complicated the peace process over apartments that would be built in an area that is slated to be part of Israel.

Now, two years later, Fatah and Hamas announce an agreement. Given that the renunciation of terror was pivotal in the legitimization of the PLO and the peace process, this week's agreement rejects the core premise of the past 18 years of peace processing.

In September, 1993, Yasser Arafat in his famous "exchange of letters" with PM Yitzchak Rabin wrote:

The PLO considers that the signing of the Declaration of Principles constitutes a historic event, inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability. Accordingly, the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.

Now Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's successor has agreed to operate jointly with Hamas, an unreformed terrorist organization. Aside from the technical problems with the apparent agreement between Fatah and Hamas, both organizations intend to benefit. Jonathan D. Halevi explains the calculation of each side:

Both sides have a basic interest in joining forces. Hamas, as noted, sees the move as an opportunity to attain seniority and rebuild its infrastructure in the West Bank. Fatah is drawn into the reconciliation by force of circumstances and awareness of the lessons and implications of the Arab Spring, which has led to the loss of its Egyptian support and the rise in power of the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent-movement of Hamas. It appears that the Fatah leaders prefer swimming with the current to sinking beneath it. Abbas thereby buys himself some quiet for an interim period. When it ends, though, he will likely find himself without assets and in a minority in the representative institutions of the Palestinian national movement.

Abbas’ cooperation with Mashaal, and his uncompromising refusal to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, illustrates the strategic choice he has made. He does not prefer the path of a political settlement but, rather, to link up with Hamas and the other regional forces emerging in the Arab Spring and thereby use them as a force multiplier against Israel without having to offer political concessions. The release of the 64 prisoners is not only a gesture to Hamas but also an implicit message that the security cooperation with Israel is secondary in Abbas’ eyes to the old-new alliance with Hamas.

While it's true that this only a deal on paper, clearly there is no innocuous way to explain away Abbas's agreement with Hamas. How has the administration responded?

Here's a press conference with State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland from earlier this week:

QUESTION: Your good ally, Qatar, seems to have brokered another deal between Fatah and Hamas, whereby President Abbas is going to be the head of this interim government. First of all, your reaction to that? Do you welcome this?


MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve seen these reports of the developments in Doha. We’re obviously seeking more information about precisely what was agreed. But as we’ve said many times, questions of Palestinian reconciliation are an internal matter for Palestinians. What matters to us are the principles that guide a Palestinian government going forward, in order for them to be able to play a constructive role for peace and building an independent state.


Let me just reiterate those for all of you again: Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence. It must recognize the State of Israel. And it must accept the previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the roadmap. So those are our expectations. So we are continuing to engage with President Abbas and his government. David Hale is seeking further clarification about what the implications of this might be.


QUESTION: Toria, the details are already out. I mean, we know it in the media, so I’m sure you have the outline of this agreement. But you indicated or you seemed to indicate that you don’t mind if President Abbas is the head of this government, saying that most of the ministers is going to be a technocrat, an independent, not Hamas member.


MS. NULAND: Again, we are not going to give a grade to this thing until we have a chance to talk to Palestinian Authority leaders about the implications. And our redlines remain the same in terms of what we expect of any Palestinian government, and those – the redlines that affect our ability to deal with it.


QUESTION: So this –


QUESTION: So you don’t –


QUESTION: So will this help or hurt the peace process that – or the lack of peace process, if that’s not really going well?


MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to wade into that until we’ve had a chance to talk to the Palestinians about it. I will say that our own position on Hamas hasn’t changed. It remains a designated foreign terrorist organization.


QUESTION: You don’t believe that peace talks with Israel are impossible now?


MS. NULAND: We want to talk to the Palestinian Authority about what this might mean. As you know, we have been working hard to continue to send the message to the parties that we think that the work that they did a few weeks ago – a couple of weeks ago in Amman was useful, was a good start, and we want to see them come back to the table. But again, we have to evaluate the implications of this, both inside the Palestinian Authority and with regard to this process, because we think that the work that’s already been done is valuable, and we don’t want to see it disrupted.

So an outright rejection of the principles is an "internal matter" and the administration is "seeking further clarification." That is an extremely measured response.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Obama's Palestine test concludes:

The Administration may want to put that question to the side and hope for the best—or else for this deal to fall apart, as other deals have in the past. But eventually the U.S. will have to make some determination about the utility of funding a Palestinian government that scorns negotiations with Israel and rarely bothers to pay even lip service to U.S. interests.

So it was last year with the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations (which failed thanks to the Administration) and later at Unesco (which succeeded despite it). We're assuming there's a limit to how often even the Obama Administration is prepared to be spurned.

It may not be too late for the U.S. to tell the Palestinians that they cannot bring a terrorist organization into government while continuing to expect American money and sympathy. But that would require sharp and public statements from Mrs. Clinton and President Obama of the kind they have used to rebuke Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Administration likes to tout itself as the best friend Israel has ever had. Its attitude toward Palestinian "reconciliation" is a test of that boast.

2) Saudi turmoil

Well no it isn't occupied, it's part of Saudi Arabia. Ten years ago, Max Singer suggested that a way to fight extremist Islam would be to Free the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia:
 

Before its conquest by Ibn Saud, the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (EP), which lies along the shore of the Arabian Gulf and which contains all of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, was populated mostly by two groups of Shiite Muslims who were quite different culturally and religiously from their Najdi conquerors. One group was Bedouins and settled date-growers and farmers living around two groups of oases. The other was pearlers, fishermen, and traders living in coastal villages along the Gulf.

Since the vast recent expansion of the oil industry, the population of the EP has multiplied, partly from natural growth of the original local population, but also by migration from other parts of Saudi Arabia and a much larger immigration of foreign Arabs and other Muslims and some professionals and managers from Europe and the U.S., all of whom are excluded from citizenship.



It is well within the power of the U.S. to make it possible for the EP to become independent from the Wahhabis, a new Muslim Republic of East Arabia. Especially if the independence of the people of the EP were gained in part by a promise to give half of the oil revenue to non-political Muslim charities throughout the world, instead of to the al Saud family, there would be no objection among Muslims around the world to ending the al Saud family’s obscene wealth and to relieve themselves of the Wahhabi preaching to their children that all other Muslims are infidels. The U.S. would neither seek nor gain control of oil policy or any oil profits. Its help to Muslims in the EP, like its help to Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, would be a result of U.S. resistance to oppression and pursuit of a safer world.

That's not going to happen. However the fault lines Singer wrote about have been exposed this week. Reuters reports:

Saudi Arabia, the world's No. 1 oil exporter, is sensitive to any Shi'ite unrest in the Eastern Province because of what it says are concerns it could be fomented by non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran to destabilize the Gulf region. Tehran denies involvement.

During the Arab uprisings last year, Saudi Arabia moved swiftly to suppress protests in the Eastern Province in February and March, arresting more than 100 people.

An activist said a peaceful march was taking place in the village of Awamiya in the Eastern Province at around 1700 GMT on Friday, in which one protester was injured by bullets fired by riot police.

Michael Rubin observes:

Eventually, the Arab Spring will come to Saudi Arabia. Grievances in Saudi Arabia are huge. When it does, it will make Syria look like a Quaker meeting.

3) I(DF) Robot

The IDF writes about 5 ways it uses robotic technology. The first example is the EyeDrive:

The EyeDrive is an all-terrain, all-weather surveillance robot developed by ODF Optronics, specially designed for urban warfare, anti-terror and search-and-rescue missions. It doesn’t break. Ever.

The EyeDrive can simply be thrown into buildings or dropped from the height of three meters without any damage. Day-and-night cameras supply the operator with a realtime 360 degree field of vision that can even tilt and zoom. Its special Video Motion Detection (VMD) software provides automatic alerts based on movement or sound detected by the EyeDrive’s sensors.

With the EyeDrive on their side, soldiers can gather all the necessary intelligence to make quick, on-site decisions that guarantee the success of a mission.

The others are the Talon, the ANDROS Wolverine, AGAMIT and MiniCat.

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.