1) The counter-intuitive truth
David Ignatius, recently peddling conventional wisdom about President Obama’s recent Middle East, Obama’s Pragmatic Approach, trip listed three accomplishments of that trip. Two of them were:
Obama breathed a little life back into an Israeli-Palestinian peace process that had all but expired. He did this largely by the force of his March 21 speech in Israel. What he accomplished was the diplomat’s trick of riding two horses at once: The speech was a love letter to Israel, as one commentator noted, and it was also a passionate evocation of the Palestinians’ plight, and the need to “look at the world through their eyes.”
Obama brokered an important reconciliation between Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With the region in turmoil, this was a matter of vital national interest for both Israel and Turkey, but it took Obama to provide the personal link that made it happen. This was a payoff for Obama’s cultivation of Erdogan since 2010, and for his “reset” with Netanyahu.
Now Lee Smith argues that Netanyahu’s apology to Erdogan was not Obama’s coup, but Netanyahu’s:
Clearly Erdogan’s three conditions were not met, a disappointment that he apparently came to terms with last month, when Turkish and Israeli negotiators hammered out the exact terms of the deal that came to pass last week. As the Turkish newspaper Radikal explained, Israel would apologize for “operational mistakes,” pay compensation, and Ankara would drop the demand that Israel lift the blockade. Thus, the stage was set for Obama’s entrance as mediator and his exit as peacemaker. In pocketing the deal until Obama’s visit, Netanyahu’s timing was perfect: He handed an American president a truly wonderful souvenir of his all too brief stay in the Holy Land.
First, while Erdogan is reportedly one of the world leaders closest to Obama, the reality is that Bibi comes off as the helpful partner in this case—not Erdogan. Any more noise out of the Turkish prime minister and he may find out what’s like to have chilly relations with an American president, which, as Netanyahu can tell him, is not where you want to be.
Second, and perhaps more important, Erdogan’s support of Hamas will expose him to criticism from his domestic rivals. Why is the prime minister of Turkey so eager to show his love for an Iranian client in Gaza when his opposition to Iran’s ally in Syria threatens Turkey’s security?
Smith’s analysis has the advantage of being somewhat more plausible even if counter-intuitive to conventional wisdom. For the mainstream media, Netanyahu is a right wing ideologue. Smith shows him to be diplomatically adroit and pragmatic. Has Obama ever convinced any ally or friend to do something he didn’t want to? At the spur of the moment? This suggests that the terms of the apology and its acceptance were set before the “stage managed” phone call. This accords with Smith’s report that Israel and Turkey had reached an agreement (no matter how much Erdogan might deny it) earlier.
The Washington Post hailed the apology in Israel and Turkey let bygones be bygones:
Both governments, however, have powerful incentives to cooperate. As Mr. Netanyahu explained on his Facebook page, his decision to deliver an apology he had long refused was driven by the growing threat that Syria’s chemical weapons and other advanced arms may fall into the hands of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon or an al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria. The two governments can now pool intelligence — and they will need to communicate in the event that one or the other is compelled to take action to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons. Israel can also take satisfaction over the alarm the accord prompted in Iran, which will worry that one constraint on Israeli military action against its nuclear facilities has been eased.
2) The Islamists of Syria
On March 19, Liz Sly reported in the Washington Post, Islamic law comes to rebel-held areas of Syria. After explaining how the Islamists have earned the respect of average Syrians, Sly writes:
Among those who have fallen afoul of the authority is Othman al-Haj Othman, a respected activist and physician renowned for his role in treating those injured in the shelling and airstrikes that persist on a daily basis. He was detained last week by armed men dispatched by the Hayaa after he removed a poster from the wall of his hospital inscribed with the Muslim declaration of faith and was held overnight in a cell at the former Eye Hospital.
More than 50 people were held in the same cell, he said on his release the following morning, adding that he saw at least three other cells containing a similar number of people. Calling Othman’s detention a “mistake,” Abu Hafs’s spokesman said the authority apologized to him — after an outcry by activists in Aleppo and beyond.
But Othman didn’t seem mollified. “They think the same way as Bashar. There is no difference,” he said, in reference to the Syrian president, as he stepped out of the hospital gates to be greeted by supporters, who had staged a small demonstration to demand his release.
On March 23 Rania Abouzeid reported How Islamist Rebels in Syria Are Ruling a Fallen Provincial Capital. Again Abouzeid is careful to note everything the Islamists are doing to govern effectively and how they are gaining respect but then she reports:
But the Jabhat has distributed other pamphlets too, including one a few days ago that called for replacing the tri-starred revolutionary flag with the Islamist black one: “Yes to choosing that the [black] banner … be the flag of the Syrian revolution and Syria.” It upset a fair number of people, some of whom simply want a civil state. Others feared that it would serve as an excuse for the regime to brand the city’s residents as extremists, or place Raqqa on a list of Islamist targets in Syria that the U.S. is allegedly putting together for potential drone strikes.
At least a few hundred publicly protested against the raising of the black flag in the square outside the governorate, while others complained inside the privacy of their homes. “We all pray, we all say, ‘There is no god but God,’ but I will not raise this flag,” an older man said. “Are they trying to break away from Syria? From the country of Syria? That [black] flag doesn’t represent me,” said another. “This is an insult to people who died for the revolutionary flag,” one young man said.
Another pamphlet pictorially depicts what is considered appropriate dress for Muslim women. Some of the Muslim women in the city wear jeans, tight shirts and hijabs although most wear abayas out in public. According to the pamphlet, trousers are out, as are wrist-to-ankle abayas (or black cloaks) that come in at the hip, or buttoned-up wrist-to-ankle overcoats that suggest a hip or shoulders. The only form of dress with a green tick beside it is an amorphous cloak of black material and a waist-length headscarf that also completely covers a women’s face. On a recent afternoon, five women passed around the pamphlet, before derisively dismissing it. “I won’t cover my face regardless of what happens!” said one. “This is our clothing,” said another, pointing to her long-sleeved, ankle-length, emerald green dress and lilac headscarf. “What’s wrong with this?”
Remember that Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood were portrayed as being devoted to good governance before they achieved power. But being better organized than any other group doesn’t mean that they are devoted to liberalism, freedom or transparency.
— The Israel Link (@TheIsraelink) March 31, 2013
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