Israel Daily News Stream 05/01/2012

Everything you need to know about today’s media coverage of Israel and the Mideast.

A Gaza aid convoy ruptures because overland route passes through Syria. Palestinian press freedom takes another blow. Might Egypt give citizenship to thousands of Palestinian refugees?

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Israel and the Palestinians

One benefit of the Arab Spring: Arab pilgrims wanting to see holy sites in Israel are shrugging off a long-standing boycott. I didn’t like how The Economist framed the story, but this snippet cuts to the chase:

As long as security services ruled the roost in Arab countries, a mere whiff of a record of dissidence deterred Arabs from applying for visas to Israel. But since the Arab spring, growing numbers of Arabs are taking a chance. Over 2,000 Copts made the pilgrimage from Egypt at Easter, says Israel’s tourism ministry. Air Sinai, a subsidiary of Egypt’s national airline, tripled its flights to Tel Aviv in the week before the annual Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony at Jesus’s tomb.

Mr Qaradawi’s fatwa has irked the city’s Arab hoteliers. Many had upgraded their drab hotels after a surge of Muslim pilgrims from India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan.

Jonathan Schanzer (via Daled Amos) details the PA’s crackdown on press freedom, compares it to the “zones of electronic repression” in Iran and Syria, and wonders why the US is wasting its leverage:

As a result, the political environment in the West Bank looks increasingly like the Gaza Strip, where the Iran-backed terrorist group Hamas rules with an iron fist.

Obama’s new executive order, which is designed to prevent human rights violations involving technology, may provide Palestinians with their best recourse for combating Abbas’s attempts to dominate the political space in the West Bank. But the president has so far failed to live up to his lofty rhetoric. Just days after the scandal erupted, the president signed a waiver releasing $192 million in aid for the Palestinians that had been frozen by Congress on the grounds that it was “important for the security interests of the United States.”

The president, however, issued the waver without first demanding that Abbas take measures to guarantee free speech in the West Bank. This was a lost opportunity. Only direct intervention by the United States will ensure greater freedom of expression for Palestinians engaged in this important struggle.

Meanwhile, The Guardian‘s Harriet Sherwood picked up on another facet of the Palestinian free speech crisis:

Wattan TV is being sued for $1m (£600,000) over an investigation into alleged corruption at a Palestinian university. It claimed that the son of a senior PA official was offered a place at the university despite having failed to meet academic requirements. The station, which says it has evidence to support its allegations, fears that some of its executives could face prison sentences and that freedom of speech in the Palestinian territories will be curtailed . . .

According to Muamar Orabi, the general director of Wattan TV, media repression is growing. “We are facing the worst time for independent journalists in the PA. Journalists are being arrested just for raising their voices and speaking freely. This is very, very dangerous. We need independent, credible voices.”

On a related note, Freedom House’s annual survey of press freedom ranked Israel as the Mideast and North Africa’s only free state. More at the Times of Israel, or see the full report in pdf.

• Hamas honcho Mahmoud Zahar obtained Egyptian citizenship. The Jerusalem Post explains that this was because of an Egyptian law offering citizenship to Palestinians with Egyptian mothers — which the Mubarak regime never enforced. I don’t see why we can’t take some  wonder how many refugees will be taken off the UNRWA dole now:

At the request of thousands of Egyptian families who have Palestinian children, the new regime in Egypt began in the past year granting citizenship to Palestinians, he said . . .

Zahar said that he received an Egyptian passport in September 2011.

Hundreds of Palestinians born to Egyptian mothers have also been granted Egyptian citizenship since the ouster of Mubarak.

Toni Morrison, who once accused Israel of genocide, will receive a US Presidential medal of freedom alongside Shimon Peres.

Don’t you just love politics? While Meir Dagan, Yuval Diskin and Ehud Olmert are hitting at Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister got an endorsement from Mahmoud Abbas. Haaretz writes:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the Tunisian parliament on Monday, “I choose you [Benjamin] Netanyahu as my partner for peace. With whom else can I make peace?”

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is holding its first internal elections since it was founded in 1979. Asharq al-Awsat writes:

The reorganization of the Islamic Jihad ranks may prove to be the catalyst behind the “grand project” promoted by some of its officials along with Hamas, namely the integration of all Palestinian factions into one entity. However, the restructure of the movement may also jeopardize unification altogether, and this depends on the individuals who emerge on the scene after the elections.

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