Friday, November 13, 2009

The Great “Abbas is Quitting” Farce; Media Deletes Palestinian Intransigence

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By Barry Rubin

It’s really funny how the story about Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas supposedly-going-to-call-elections-and-resign story was covered. Everyone in the Middle East knew he wouldn’t resign and he wouldn’t call elections. It was a blatant bid to get something from the Americans and pretend that he was tough. But the Western media reported the story as if it were true.

This technique borrows from Egyptian President (dictator) Gamal Abdel Nasser after he lost the 1967 war. Step 1: Announce your quitting. Step 2: Organize big demonstrations begging you not to quit. Abbas added to this a Step 3: Get Westerners to give you goodies and demand more concessions from Israel so that you'll stay.

So the media played along and took it seriously. In the process we were given the mainstream view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict within the framework of the Commandment: Thou shalt not criticize the Palestinian side. Well, you can knock Hamas but not the PA. In fact, the more one-sided the reporting, the better.

But it wasn’t long before it was clear he’d stay on as the PA’s head and there won’t be any elections.

In covering the story, though, the media generally gave us this narrative: The poor Palestinian leadership is just slathering for peace but Israel won’t give them anything and President Barack Obama won’t help. (Yes, so compelling is the Commandment on not criticizing the Palestinians that people are even willing to criticize Obama instead! Which really tells you something about the intensity of this syndrome(.

For example we got “Abbas says he doesn't want to seek reelection,” by Howard Schneider in the Washington Post:

” Abbas' announcement follows months of failed attempts by the United States to restart direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. A weekend trip to the region by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accentuated the impasse, as the United States announced it was scaling back its expectations, and Palestinians contended there was a growing pro-Israeli tilt to U.S. policy.”

Now what doesn’t that paragraph tell us? Abbas is the one rejecting negotiations with Israel right now! This is the central problem Obama is facing today. 

Yet everything—and I do mean everything—is spun in a pro-PA, anti-Israel manner. Look at this:

“But advisers and analysts said it was possible he was merely venting frustration over a dialogue with the United States and Israel that has undercut him politically without any marked progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Poor Abbas! The U.S. and Israel are undercutting him and preventing any progress toward a Palestinian state. Might Abbas and the PA bear some responsibility for this situation? Not according to the coverage.

Nor are we even told how they are really undercutting him. Here's how: The United States asked Abbas not to go all demagogic on the Goldstone Report, that collection of unproven Hamas accusations that has become a UN report, and demand that Israel be sanctioned and declared a war criminal state. If you're going to negotiate with Israel, goes the correct logic of the Obama Administration, you can't demonize it.

In addition, this behavior would have had the PA emerge as the leading defender of Hamas, which not only killed Abbas's men but is openly genocidal toward Israel and will never make peace. The underlying PA strategy, of course is this: Why negotiate with Israel when you can get the international community to put such crushing pressure on it as to force Israel to give you everything you want with no concessions on your part.

But this is the kind of analysis we never hear. Instead we get:

“[Abbas’s speech] should "be understood as an urgent scream against the continuing pressure and bending our arms" by the United States and Israel, Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said….

“After initial optimism that President Obama's election would elevate Palestinian interests, Abbas has been steadily frustrated in his hopes for quick results on issues he regards as central, such as a freeze on the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“Instead, his political standing has declined, as decisions made in consultation with the United States proved unpopular locally while still failing to produce anticipated Israeli concessions.”

Well you get the idea. But wait a minute! Isn’t this article being published after the U.S. and Israel reached a deal that there would be a free of construction on settlements? So in fact the United States didn’t fail to produce anticipated Israeli concessions. It did produce them.

And since the PA betrayed its promise about Goldstone to Obama within about 48 hours while refusing to engage in negotiations with Israel, it didn’t exactly give the president much chance to produce results.

 Goodness, the PA doesn’t need to hire a public relations’ agency, does it?

In other anguished coverage of Abbas’s phony resignation threat, we got the November 7, “Despair rises as Abbas talks of bowing out,” by Steven Gutkin, Associated Press. Despair? Laughter is more like it.

How about this lead:

“By saying he wants to step down as president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas has highlighted a deep Palestinian despair rooted in decades of failed peace initiatives and fruitless violence.

“Neither strategy has yielded a Palestinian state, and Israeli settlements still encroach on lands that would be part of their would-be nation.”

Remember Camp David and the Clinton plan of 2000, which the Palestinians turned down? But we are to believe they keep trying and nothing works for them. You’d never know the peace initiatives failed because the PA vetoed them. The Palestinians rejected a peace which would have had Israel remove all the settlements on its territory. That’s why the settlements are still there!

 And of course the PA flubbed it when Israel did remove all the settlements from the Gaza Strip.

And what’s the subtle implication of the PA's policy which the media interpretation usually reinforces? Answer: Israel should remove the settlements and give everything the PA demands now and later on the two sides can negotiate.

The article continues:

“Facing a hawkish Israeli government and an Obama administration reluctant to put muscle behind its demands on Israel, many Palestinians say they see no hope.”

Poor Palestinians! Israel just won’t make peace and Obama won’t help.  The key to success is just pressuring Israel's government. Yeah, that’s sure an accurate description of the situation, isn’t it?

Yet what does this tell us? That the relative moderates, the PA and Egypt and Saudi Arabia (see here) are now blaming Obama for not doing enough nice things for them. Publicly, their complaint is that he’s not bashing Israel enough; privately, that he’s not bashing Iran and Syria enough. A good portion of the media is picking up this public theme, implying that Obama is just too darn right-wing on the Middle East.

The radicals are even more outspoken. They don’t care about Obama’s Cairo and Istanbul and UN speeches. No matter what he does, he and America are their enemies.

And so for example, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called Obama even more pro-Israel and anti-Muslim than George W. Bush. He’s just trying to stall for time “and gain Arab sympathy," says the Hizballah chieftain, and all "illusions" of his being fair are gone.

Unfortunately, there are still too many illusions left, and they are with American policymakers who let Iran and the Palestinians stall and gain Western sympathy.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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