The GLORIA Center will now feature daily analysis of Middle East news and reports compiled by Daniel Goldstein on select topics of the day.
1) The other President’s man
Yesterday, I criticized Thomas Friedman for his statements on Fareed Zakaria’s show. It’s less important that I called Friedman “anti-Israel” but why. In short, Friedman’s argument was that no matter how many times the Palestinians reject peace, Israel must make new offers. This is, of course, a negotiating strategy no sane party would ever adopt. The other party has every incentive to continue refusing offers. In recommending such a course, Friedman shows himself to be either a knave or a fool. I’m unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt and conclude that the former is true.
I know less about Fareed Zakaria than about Thomas Friedman, however he’s never impressed me much. In his statement, though he shows, with two assertions that truth isn’t his strong suit.
The newsworthy and real shift in U.S. policy was President Obama publicly condemning the Palestinian strategy to seek recognition as a state from the U.N. General Assembly in September. Instead of thanking Obama for this, Prime Minister Netanyahu chose to stage, in the words of the former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas, quote, “nothing less than a bizarre tirade at the White House on Friday, educating the president about the plight (ph) and the pogroms of Jews throughout history,” end quote.
In order to demonstrate that Netanyahu was out of line, Zakaria terms the President’s statement a condemnation. Here are the President’s words:
For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.
That’s not a condemnation; it’s a caution not to take a certain approach. It isn’t even a condemnation of the unity pact between Hamas and Fatah.
Later on Zakaria says:
So why did Netanyahu do this? Does it help Israel’s security or strengthen it otherwise to stoke tensions with its strongest ally and largest benefactor, Washington? Does such behavior further the resolution of Israel’s problems? No, but it helps Netanyahu stir up support at home and maintain his fragile coalition.
Unless I’m seriously misinformed, Netanyahu’s coalition isn’t fragile. But to argue that Netanyahu’s cynically playing politics requires Zakaria to provide a motive. So he creates one out of thin air.
There is someone who agrees with Netanyahu that President Obama’s statement about the 1967 borders is a big deal. Those would be the Palestinians.
MENA said the Palestinians confirmed their readiness to restart peace negotiations with Israel based on U.S. President Barack Obama’s May 19 speech stating Israel’s pre-1967 lines as a starting point for new borders.
First President Obama gave the Palestinians a disincentive to negotiate by making an issue of a settlement freeze. When the President forced Netanyahu to adopt one the Palestinians refused to negotiate until the very end of the freeze. Then when they walked out the issue was framed as “negotiations ended when Israel started building in the West Bank again.” Once again, President Obama has attached a pre-condition to negotiations. Israel must accept that anything less than a withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines is a concession by the Palestinians that must be countered with a concession from Israel. The President has once again made negotiations less likely, allowing Mahmoud Abbas to return to his passive-aggressive mode and avoid any responsibility for refusing to negotiate in good faith or at all.
Understanding Zakaria and Friedman and their mendacity makes the knowledge that the President considers them authorities on the Middle East that much scarier.
2) Diplomatic support can’t buy me love
According to a front-page story in the main German business daily the Handelsblatt, “Although [Iran] is subject to strict economic sanctions by the EU and USA, Germany helps in circumventing them.” New disclosures this week have catapulted the Hamburg-based Iranian bank EIH, the German Foreign Ministry, and Germany’s central bank (Deutsche Bundesbank) into a security disaster over Germany’s use of its bank system to finance Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Apparently, the terror bank EIH — which the U.S. Treasury sanctioned “as one of Iran’s few remaining access points to the European financial system” — simply colluded with the Bundesbank and the Foreign Ministry to bypass EU and U.S. sanctions.
But those efforts haven’t bought Germany much Iranian love.
Iran set off a diplomatic row with Germany on Tuesday by closing its airspace to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plane as it flew to India and delaying her arrival there on an official visit, officials said. Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin to protest “the breach of international protocol,” said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
3) How important is the Palestinian Israeli conflict?
Egypt’s Christians Fear Violence as Changes Embolden Islamists (The New York Times, May 30, 2011)
Like many similar stories proliferating here since the revolution, Ms. Abdel Fattah’s kidnapping could not be confirmed. But for members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, the sensational headline — from a respected publisher, no less — served to validate their fear that the Egyptian revolution had made their country less tolerant and more dangerous for religious minorities. The Arab Spring initially appeared to open a welcoming door to the dwindling number of Christian Arabs who, after years of feeling marginalized, eagerly joined the call for democracy and rule of law. But now many Christians here say they fear that the fall of the police state has allowed long-simmering tensions to explode, potentially threatening the character of Egypt, and the region.
Labor group urges Qatar to improve workers’ rights for 2022 World Cup building boom (AP/Washington Post, May 30, 2011)
An international labor group is calling on Qatar to boost rights and improve living conditions for migrant laborers working on the massive projects planned for soccer’s 2022 World Cup. But the International Trade Union Confederation says there are few signs that the Gulf nation will change labor rules that activists claim can leave workers open to exploitation.
Video of Tortured Boy’s Corpse Deepens Anger in Syria (The New York Times, May 30, 2011)
Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, a round-faced 13-year-old boy, was arrested at a protest in Jiza, a southern Syrian village near Dara’a, on April 29. Nothing was known of him for a month before his mutilated corpse was returned to his family on the condition, according to activists, that they never speak of his brutal end.
But the remains themselves testify all too clearly to ghastly torture. Video posted online shows his battered, purple face. His skin is scrawled with cuts, gashes, deep burns and bullet wounds that would probably have injured but not killed…
4) Now they tell us
The New York Times reports that Inspectors Pierce Iran’s Cloak of Nuclear Secrecy
The International Atomic Energy Agency last week presented a report to its board that laid out new information on what it calls “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program, clarifying the central issue in the long clash between Tehran and the West over nuclear technology.
It’s not clear if this latest revelation was the impetus for recent remarks by MK Moshe Yaalon.
“We strongly hope that the entire civilized world will come to realize what threat this regime is posing and take joint action to avert the nuclear threat posed by Iran, even if it would be necessary to conduct a pre-emptive strike,” Yaalon was quoted by Interfax as saying.
Yaalon wouldn’t discuss who might deal the strike, saying the entire world, not just Israel, must be concerned about the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.
The latest IAEA news makes the 2007 NIE even more dubious. But at least there was no “slam dunk,” as David Ignatius reassured us a few years ago.
All these strands converged in the bombshell National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that was released Monday. That document was as close to a U-turn as one sees in the intelligence world. The community dropped its 2005 judgment that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons” and instead said, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program” because of international pressure.
I fee better already, don’t you?
5) Good news from Libya?
Is Qaddafi reaching the end of the line?
Hours later in Rome, eight Libyan army officers, including five generals, appeared at a news conference arranged by the Italian government, saying they were part of a group of 120 military officials and soldiers who had defected in recent days.
“What is happening to our people has frightened us,” one of the defecting officers, who identified himself as General Oun Ali Oun, told reporters, according to news agencies. “There is a lot of killing, genocide . . . violence against women. No wise, rational person with the minimum of dignity can do what we saw with our eyes and what he [Gaddafi] asked us to do.”