Media Cheat Sheet 12/18/2011

Everything you need to know about the weekend media coverage of Israel and the Mideast.

Though he’s too diplomatic to say so directly, Dennis Ross indicates that Mahmoud Abbas is the biggest obstacle to resuming peace talks. For the first time, Jerusalem’s mayor endorses dividing the city. And why is the Prime Minister’s Office feeling hard done by with the NY Times?

Gray Lady Bibiwashing

• Saying the NY Times opinion section is loaded against Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office is refusing to write an op-ed responding to Tom Friedman’s latest column. Bibi’s advisor, Ron Dermer, explained why in a letter to the Gray Lady.

• Isi Liebler (Israel HaYom) weighs in.

The New York Times editorials and columns like that of Thomas Friedman should not be treated lightly. They must be viewed in the context of the recent condemnations of Israel emanating from higher echelons of the Obama administration. Unless vigorously repudiated, these critiques will have a ripple effect with the potential of undermining the, up until now, prevailing bipartisan consensus over Israel.

• Stephen Walt gives Friedman a big thumbs up:

Hopefully Friedman will stick to his guns in the weeks and months ahead, because he is making arguments and advocating positions that are not only in America’s interest, but in Israel’s as well. The new Tom Friedman is a friend of Israel, not an enemy . . . .

It’s the classic story of interest-group politics: If a small minority cares passionately about an issue and the rest of the population cares less, politicians will pander to the few and ignore the many, even as evidence accumulates that the resulting policy is wrongheaded. In this case, our present policy towards Israel is harmful to the long-term interests of both the United States and Israel.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what Tom Friedman has figured out and has had the good sense and courage to point out to his many readers. Good for him, and good for the United States and Israel too.

Israel and the Palestinians

Mayor Nir Barkat

• Jerusalem Post: For the first time, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat suggests dividing changing Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries:

Barkat suggested that small parts of municipal Jerusalem that lie on the Palestinian Authority side of the security barrier should be under the responsibility of the PA rather than the municipality, which has trouble providing services and accessing those areas due to the security situation there.

. . .

“We must relinquish areas of the municipality that are located outside of the fence,” Barkat said in his speech last week. “I recommend keeping the fence the way it is, and relinquishing parts of the municipality that are on the other side of the fence and annexing the areas confined on the Israeli side of the fence that are not under the responsibility of the municipality.”

•  Dennis Ross assesses the state of the peace talks, prompting Jackson Diehl to wonder why Israel takes the blame for the impasse:

Mahmoud Abbas

“Abu Mazen is convinced that, with this Israeli government, he can’t reach agreement. And so, because he’s convinced that there’s no agreement with this Israeli government, he imposes conditions on negotiations, since he’s convinced negotiations will only produce failure.”

Of Netanyahu, Ross said: “He sees in Abu Mazen someone who looks like he runs away from negotiations, imposes conditions for negotiations that he didn’t impose on Bibi’s predecessors, and he puts Israel in the corner.” Which, by Ross’s own account, is not an inaccurate perception.

This is a point that I, among other observers, have been trying to make since 2009: Abbas is simply unwilling to deal with Netanyahu, and his demands for Israeli concessions prior to talks — such as a settlement freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem — are pretexts that have nothing to do with his real motives, or the real obstacles to peace. It follows that, almost regardless of concessions Netanyahu might make — such as his settlement-construction moratorium last year — Abbas will refuse to talk.

. . . .

But if Ross is right, why does the administration fault Netanyahu for failure to “get to the damn table?” How can he get to a table if his partner has already ruled out talking to him? The Israeli leader certainly has his faults, and he bears some of the responsibility for the impasse. But, according to the White House’s own expert on the subject, it is Abbas who is intransigent.

• The PA’s Struggling to Fund Bethlehem ChurchRenovations. Fixing up the Church of the Nativity’s roof was supposed to be the centerpiece of the PA’s efforts to prove it can protect UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

• Congress will continue aid to PA, with strings loosely attached. The LA Times writes:

An appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year that was released this week by House Republicans would allow a continuation of aid as long as the Palestinian Authority does not join any more U.N.organizations in its bid to increase its global diplomatic standing.

. . . .

The appropriations bill won’t penalize the Palestinian Authority for joining UNESCO. But aid would be cut off if the Palestinians joined another U.N. group. Officials noted that funds could still be provided under a waiver from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying aid continuation was in the national interest of the United States.

• Thanks to Newt Gingrich, AP puts Palestinian textbooks in the spotlight:

A review of some texts by The AP, as well as several studies by Israeli, Palestinian and international researchers, found no direct calls for violence against Israel. However, the books lack material about the historic Jewish presence in the region and scarcely mention Israel and then mostly in a negative way. Peace with Israel rarely comes up. Texts for religious schools are harder-core, openly glorifying martyrdom.

Researchers disagree sharply in their interpretation of the material.

• Elliott Abrams wonders why nobody’s speaking out against Ismail Haniyeh’s call for terror against Israel:

Given that Hamas is a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, here is a question about other Brotherhood groups, affiliates, or sympathizers coming to power in other Arab lands: will they denounce Hamas for such statements and call for a peaceful settlement? Will they say they agree with PLO leader and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of terrorism? How they talk about these issues, and how they treat Hamas leaders, will tell us a good deal about the political paths they will take. It is not the only litmus test, but it will be a useful one.

Iranian Atomic Urgency

• An Iranian engineer told the Christian Science Monitor that the stealth drone was hijacked by reconfiguring its GPS:

“The GPS navigation is the weakest point,” the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran’s “electronic ambush” of the highly classified US drone. “By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.”

The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data – made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.

. . .

Western military experts and a number of published papers on GPS spoofing indicate that the scenario described by the Iranian engineer is plausible.

• The mullahs have earmarked $1 billion to boost Iran’s cyberwarfare capabilities. More at the Jerusalem Post.

Arab Spring

• Natan Sharansky (Washington Post) weighs in on Egyptian democracy.

• Attacks on the Egyptian-Israeli gas pipeline in the Sinai have gotten so frequent, they’re actually a waste of time. Reuters explains why the 10th attack caused almost no damage:

The latest blast broke the pipe, but no flames were seen as gas pumping has been halted since the last attack on Nov. 28.

• Blood flows in Cairo’s streets as protesters and security personnel clashed. The Lede rounds up the videos.

• This is ugly: Syrian Forces Take Families Hostage to Force Protesters Into Submission

• According to the Kuwait Times (via IsraellyCool), Assad’s threatening to release sex tapes involving several Gulf state rulers.

• Syrian refugees in Lebanon shared their stories with the LA Times.

Rest O’ the Roundup

• A few weeks ago, The Australian published a John Lyons investigation into the status of Palestinian youth in the Israeli justice system. Now, The Australian reports that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has asked  hisdiplomats to check out the juvenile military court.

The diplomats have been told to report to Mr Rudd on the conditions they find at the Ofer military prison, near Jerusalem.

According to a statement from Mr Rudd’s office, he has also instructed Australian officials to initiate a meeting with Israeli authorities to raise concerns about the system under which Palestinian children are tried.

This is an excellent opportunity for the IDF to show how they work. I’m sure there’s nothing to hide and the army will come out of this fine.

• NY Times: The US is taking legal action against several businesses helping Hezbollah launder money.

The court action, filed in Manhattan federal court, seeks nearly half a billion dollars in penalties from three Lebanese financial organizations — the now-defunct Lebanese Canadian Bank and two Beirut-based money exchange houses — and 30 auto dealers in the United States. The $480 million in penalties is the sum of the drug proceeds that are alleged to have been laundered; the government is also seeking to freeze and seize assets traceable to those companies.

It’s a followup on a meaty NYT expose last week.

• I liked Dry Bones‘ take on settler youth attacks.

• According to Maan News, Jordan’s filing a complaint with UNESCO over Israel’s new Dead Sea scrolls exhibition, now in New York City. The PA previously claimed the scrolls too.

• FYI —  USC Annenberg study: Is America At a Digital Turning Point?

(Image of Abbas via Flickr/Oliver Pacteau; Capitol dome via Flickr/Rob Shenk; GPS via Flickr/chrisada)