August 23, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for April 20, 2012


1) Springtime for Abbas

Last May, the Associated Press carried a story, Inspired by Arab Spring, Palestinian protest is bursting with new energy:

Sunday's protests were driven by renewed hopes that Palestinian statehood – at least as an internationally approved idea within specific borders – is approaching after years of paralysis.

The optimism is fed by reconciliation efforts between the Islamic militant Hamas and the Western-backed Fatah movement after a four-year split, as well as growing international support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' plan to seek UN recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in September over Israel's objections.

Although some say UN recognition will change little on the ground, the pro-democracy revolts in the Arab world have instilled a new sense of possibility among Palestinians, who had been dejected after two failed uprisings against Israeli rule and fruitless peace talks over the past 20 years.

The premise here is that there was a parallel between the Arab Spring and Palestinian statehood aspirations. That's not quite right. The Arab Spring was initially about having greater self determination or at least a protest against the rulers. But the Palestinians freedom isn't dependent on statehood. They already have institutions of government. The question remains what will it take to for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. Already in 2000 and again in 2008, Israeli offers of peace were rejected by the Palestinian leaders.

In a similar vein, a few months earlier, Thomas Friedman nastily commented, in B.E., Before Egypt. A.E., After Egypt:

But Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel is in danger of becoming the Mubarak of the peace process. Israel has never had more leverage vis-à-vis the Palestinians and never had more responsible Palestinian partners. But Netanyahu has found every excuse for not putting a peace plan on the table.

Why Friedman argues about "leverage" is mystifying. He believes, that "everyone knows" what peace will look like and yet the Palestinians have twice rejected proposals that were very similar.

is general argument that Netanyahu was marginalizing himself is false. Barring an unforeseen scandal, Netanyahu's chances of reelection are very strong. It is Abbas and Fayyad who are complaining about being sidelined. So no, nothing's passed Israel by.

Jackson Diehl has just reviewed how the past year's gone in Mahmoud Abbas's Unhappy Anniversary:

The final phase of the Abbas strategy was supposed to kick in last fall: Palestinians were urged to turn out for mass pro-statehood demonstrations. Abbas’s aides made no secret of their hopes that a new popular intifada would erupt, a Palestinian version of the Arab Spring that, combined with the U.N. votes, would bring unprecedented pressure to bear on Israel.

Only nothing happened. There were a couple of West Bank demonstrations but no intifada.

This week, Abbas effectively brought his campaign to a close with a last, pathetic gesture: a letter, under preparation for months, that was delivered to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by a Palestinian delegation. Predictably, the missive faulted Israel for the failure of peace talks; somewhat audaciously, it also blamed Netanyahu for the collapse of Palestinian reconciliation.

While I have quibbles with some of the particulars in the column, Diehl has the major points correct. It is Abbas, who despite the bluster who is left behind.

Abbas, in fact, has overstayed his term in office by more than three years, is thoroughly corrupt and is now using his power to persecute and intimidate political opponents. In other words, Abbas, himself, is the antithesis of the "Arab spring."

2) Springtime for Abu Marzouk

This past October, the Christian Science Monitor reported Hamas popularity hits a new low after opposing UN statehood bid. Among the factors contributing to its declining popularity was the perception of corruption:

And while Hamas opposes Abbas's position, it has not offered an alternative strategy and appears content to enjoy the benefits of power while Gazans suffer.

A joke circulating the territory posits that the reason Hamas's armed wing, Al Qassam Brigades, has stopped firing rockets at Israel is that the fighters' jeeps lack air conditioning. Residents tell stories of Hamas officials who used to drive modest cars now sporting luxury vehicles, and Gazans like Mr. Gamar, the gas station owner, complain the government is reaching into their pockets in every way it can.

But for now at least, Hamas doesn't appear to see an urgent need to change the status quo.

A new article in the Washington Post, In Gaza, Hamas rule has not turned out as many expected, by Karin Brulliard has picked up this theme:

Ideology aside, the Hamas that won control of this Mediterranean strip, isolated by an economic siege and hobbled by 30 percent unemployment, no longer looks the same to many Gazans. It secured once-lawless streets, as promised. But hopes of Islam-guided fairness and an end to the graft that had tainted the tenure of the secular Fatah party have turned to widespread griping about Hamas corruption and patronage.

Hamas has hired more than 40,000 civil servants, and analysts say the top tiers are filled by loyalists. Members of the Hamas elite are widely thought to have enriched themselves through investment in the dusty labyrinth of smuggling tunnels beneath the border with Egypt and taxes on the imported goods. That money has been channeled into flashy cars and Hamas-owned businesses that only stalwarts get a stake in, critics say.

Street-level umbrage has risen in recent months alongside tax increases and a crippling power crisis that has caused 18-hour blackouts and gas station lines that snake around corners. It began after Egypt stopped providing subsidized fuel for vehicles and Gaza’s sole power plant through the tunnels. Analysts — and ordinary Gazans — say the crisis has been prolonged by Hamas’s refusal to import pricier fuel through an Israeli-controlled crossing.

(This is the second recent article by Brulliard. While not perfect, her limited work until now has been far superior to that of Joel Greenberg, who only seemed to report when there was some way to make Israel look bad. If Brulliard has replaced Greenberg, that would seem to be a positive development.)

Even if Hamas's corruption is not as extensive as Abbas's it still is widespread, and undercuts the "good government" image they tried to cultivate.

Many assumed (or, at least, predicted) that Hamas would govern well. Many also assumed that taking on the responsibilities of governing would moderate Hamas. According to an interview of Mousa Abu Marzouk by the Forward, that has not happened:

Abu Marzook, deputy director of Hamas’s political bureau, for the most part used the opportunity to expand on long-standing Hamas positions. Contrary to some media reports, he indicated no new flexibility that would move Hamas closer to accepting conditions laid down by the so-called Quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations for his group’s participation in the now moribund Middle East peace process. Abu Marzook did not, however, foreclose the possibility of a more accommodating relationship with Israel in the future.

I'm disappointed by this and similar comments:

But David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, focused more on the actual content. “Unfortunately,” he said, “it’s a validation of those who believe Hamas has a far way to go before it becomes a legitimate Palestinian interlocutor.”

The qualifications are outrageous. "[V]alidation?" No it's a confirmation. "[T]hose who believe?" No, it's a confirmation of what Hamas is. This isn't a matter of perceptions.

See more at Israel Matzav and Elder of Ziyon.

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.