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PAGE 4A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 8, 2013 By Khaled Abu Toameh JNS.org In another story the Western media apparently refuses to cover, any Palestinian who dares to criticize Hamas or the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) risks being arrested or summoned for interrogation, Palestinian journalists are now hoping to bring this to the attention of U.S. President Barack Obamawhen he meets with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas next month. The journalists say they want United States and the rest of the world to know that the crack- expect By Ben Cohen JNS.org Sometimes you have to give politicians a little credit. Ifyouheardthmugh the grapevine that two of your friends had been discussing you, with one calling you a "liar" and the other one replying, "I have to deal with him even more often than you," chances are you would cut ties. And that's exactly what former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama said, respec- tively, about the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an unguarded moment at the G20 Summit in France two years ago. Yet, in the aftermath of this exchange, it is the imperatives of statecraft, and not personal antipa- thies, that have won the day. Later this month, the recently re-elected Obama will visit Israel to be hosted by the recently re-elected Netanyahu. Doubtless, every journalist presentwillbewatching both leaders for uneasy body language or facial ticks, as if the entire U.S-Israeli relationship can be interpreted through the fact that Bibi and Barack don't like each other. While it's true thatwarm personal relationships have enhanced the foreign policies of certain Presidents--thinkofRonaldReaganandMargaret Thatcher, or George W. Bush and Tony Blair--they are not aprerequisite for success. The key issue with Obama's visit to Israel is notwhether the President and Netanyahu can learn to like each other, but wl ether they can agree on common goals. Obama, in the past, hasspokenofthe importance ofputting more "daylight" between himself and the Israelis. Perhaps the White House and Jerusalem might jointly decide that it's time to close the gap, now that Obarna and Netanyahu will remain in power Until the middle of the present decade. Perhaps. There remain important strategic differences between the two countries which one visit alone is unlikely to resolve (Obama's decision to thus far' avoid a trip to Israel, which outraged sections of the American Jewish community, is actually the least of these.) To begin with, there is Iran. The Iranian Su- preme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has, as expected, rejected the Obama Administration's proposal for direct talks on the mullahs nuclear program --an offer which, depending on your point of view, was either a smart way of outing the Iranians true intentions, or a weak gesture reminiscent of the !'reset" policy with Vladimir Putin's Russia. Additionally, there is a'change of leadership to consider: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, is on his way out, with a June election that may well see his hated rival, Ali Larijani, replace him. Larijani, however, is no reformer. A form.er nuclear negotiator he is also, l ikeAhmadinejad, aHolocaustdenierwhoregularly rants about his desire to destroy Israell Unless Obama can conclusively persuade Netanyahu that the sanctions imposed on Iran are working, their conversation on this topic is likely to reach the question of pre-emptive military action much more quickly ttmn either would desire. Then there is the situation in the Arab world. Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's slaugh- ter of his own population continues unabated, is the most pressing concern. America's lack of leadership over the Syrian crisis, which contrasts markedly with France's intervention against Is- lamist terrorists in the west African state of Mali, has piled doubt upon the endless predictions that Assad's regime is in its final days. Assad's ire has turned again upon Israel, following an air strike in early February against what was reported to be a military research center near Damascus. All this has increased the instability on Israel's northern frontier, which exploded into war as recently as 2006, after Hezbollah, a client of both Syria and Iran, rained missiles on Israeli towns and cities in the region. Nor are any of the post-Assad scenarios particularly comforting, given the rising presence of Islamists in the Syrian resistance. In addition to Syria, Egypt and potentially the rest of, North Africa will be on the agenda as a result of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in this part of the world. The Israelis can't be pleased with the continuing provision of more than $1 billion in American aid to Egypt annually, given the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel noises President Muhamed Morsi and his cronies have been mak- ing. At the same time, the Americans can point out that Morsi's control over the Egyptian army is far from complete, and that therefore a strong Egyptian military is a useful counterweight to the Islamists. Finally, there is the Palestinian issue. As well as visiting Israel, Obama will visit the Palestin- ian Authority, which promises to be a far bigger headache. The Palestinian strategy Of pursuing unilateral recognition, and of portraying Israel's attempts to secure the integrity of Jerusalem as a devious scheme to deny them a contiguous state, does not comport well with American policy, however big the disagreements between Obama and Netanyahu have been. In Ramallah, Obama will face a Palestinian leadership whose current modus operandi is to diplomatically isolate, rather thanengagewith, Israel.Moreover, itisaleadership that remains divided between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, Nor should we forget that the backing of Hamas by two key American allies in the region, Turkey and Qatar, threatens to bury the P.A.'s talks with Obama into migraine- inducing complexity. Some readers will already be aware that I've ranked the above topics in order ofpriority. The Pal- estinian question is not, as Chuck Hagel, Obama's nominee for defense secretary, believes, the key to stability in the Middle East. Right now, a Palestin- ian state alongside Israel--the much-vaunted and increasingly tired-looking "two state solution" will satisfy no one. Arab and Muslim radicals will denounce any hint of a deal as treachery, leaving P.A. President MahmoudAbbas, who hasn't exactly established his credentials as an honest negotiator, with little room for maneuvering. The wisest way of approaching Obama's visit, then, is to do so without expectations. If Obama repeats his pledge made during the election campaign to stand by Israel in the event of an attack, that outcome will be satisfying enough. Presidential visits abroad are, in any case, carefully stage-managed events. The strength of the U.S.- Israel relationship will be tested not while Obama is in the country, but once he is gone. Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha'aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT. CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE 1SSN 0199-0721 Winner of 41 Press Awards Editor/Publisher . Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Starn Mike Etzkin Kim Fischer HERITAGE Florida Jewish News ( ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- dresses ($46.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite i01, Fer~ Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. Society Editor Bookkeeping Gloria Yousha Paulette Alfonso Account Executives Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser Richard Ries Contributing Columnists Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky Tim Boxer David Bornstein Terri Fine Ed Ziegler MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Production Department Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 David Lehman David Gaudio Teri Marks email: news@orlandoheritage.com Elaine 8chooping Gil Dombrosloj Caroline Pope downonfreedomofexpressioninboththeWest Kahlout, Esam Madi, Hussein Abdel Jawwad, Bank and Gaza Strip is designed to hide the fact Abdel Karim Hijji and Yusef Hammad. that Palestinians are governed by two repressive regimes that have no respect for human rights and democracy. Over the past few weeks, several Palestinian journalists have been arrested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for reportedly criticizing the poli- cies and leaders of the P.A. and Hamas. But this most recent assault on freedom of expression does not seem to bother the Western countries that fund the P.A., or Hamas supporters from all around the world. As far as many Western governments and journalists are concerned, physical assaults on Palestinian reporters in the Gaza Strip are fine as long as they are not perpetrated by Israel. The P.A. crackdown on Palestinianjournalists in the West Bank is also fine with the West as long as Israel is not involved. Most of the assaults against journalists took place in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas continues to display zero tolerance towards critics or anyone who dares to say something "controversial." In the past few weeks, at least 16 journalists from the Gaza Strip were arrested or summoned for interrogation by Hamas authorities in the context of a campaign aimed at intimidating the local media. Some of the journalists were released only after Hamas forced them to sign a document stating that they would refrain from attending press conferences or covering Various activities unless they obtained permission in advance. The Hamas authorities have also raided the homes of several journalists, confiscating their computers and notebooks. In some instances, Hamas's security forces have forced journalists to provide them with their passwords and usernames in order to check their emails. The following is a list of the names of journal- ists from the Gaza Strip who have been arrested or interrogated by Hamas in recentweeks:Ashraf Abu Khwaisan, Ala Dawaheed, Amru Dawaheed, Munir al-Munairawi, Mustafa Migdad, Majdi Islim, Juma'ah Abu Shomar, Hisham al-Ju'ub, Muayad Assali, Shadi Shaheen, Muhanad al-. Three other journalists, Khaled Thabet, Mohamed Za'anin and Muthana al-Najjar, were beaten by Hamas policemen and thugs while coveting various activities in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, the situation has not been any better for Palestinian journalists and politi- cal activists. Just last week, a P.A. court sentenced 26-year- old Anas Said Awwad to one year in prison for "insulting" Abbas on Facebook. Awwad was found guilty of depicting Abbas as a member of the Real Madrid soccer'team. The man was convicted on the basis of a 50-year-old Jordanian law that bans "extending one's tongue" againstthe J0rdanian monarch. The P.A. often uses this law to punish anyone who posts comments against Abbas or other leaders in Ramallah. This was the first time that the P.A. has gone after Palestinians who use Facebook to express their views. At least three other Palestinians, Nizar Banat, Mamdouh Hamamreh and Jihad Harb, have been targeted by Abbas's security forces for posting critical comments on Facebook. Last week, P.A. security forces also arrested two journalists, Ala al-Titi and Mohamed Awad. Safad Nazzal, a Palestinian female activist who criticized the P.A. for failing to pay more attention to the case of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, has also been arrested by P.A. security forces in the West Bank. It now remains to be seen whether Obama and other Western leaders and government officials, as well as human rights groups, will pay attention to the ongoing attempt to silence Palestinian journalists and political activists. Failure to do so will only encourage Hamas and the P.A. to continue their assaults on freedom of expression. Originally published by the Gatestone Insti- tute, www.gatestoneinstitute.org. Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades, including for the Jerusalem Post since 2002. By Alan Elsner/JNS.org WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's trip to Israel later this month has already ac- cumulated a lengthy agenda including the civil war in Syria, the Iranian nuclear programs and Israel's fraying relations with Egypt and Turkey. Oh yes, and there is also the small matter of peace with the Palestinians. Secretary of State John Kerry has stated a couple of times that Obama is going to Israel and also to the West Bank to meetwith Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas--mostly to listen. That's as it should be On a trip of this nature at the start of a new four-year administration. But this listening phase needs to be followed by a concerted effort to get the parties back to the table. It's going to take determination, hard work and creative U.S. diplomacy to peel away the layers of distrust that have built up between the parties in the past three years--but the alternative is much worse. There are those who argue that because of the mounting regional instability and the Iran threat, this is not the time to launch a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. But precisely the opposite is the case. Resolving the Israel i-Palestinian dispute is one of the few things the United States can try to do to inject some stability into the region. Both sides still regard the United States as the only possible - honest broker and both remain committed, on paper at least, to_a two-state solution. Israeli-Palestinian peace would also diplomati- cally isolate Iran and strengthen the monarchy in Jordan. It would place Hamas in a real bind by giving Palestinians in Gaza the model of another way to live. It's not as if preserving the status quo is a Viable option. The economic situation in the West Bank is deteriorating and signs of unrest. are growing. The Israeli media is full of reports abo!at apossible"third Intifada" which couldwell sweep away Abbas and his Fatah colleagues and bring Islamists to the fore. Some on the I~aeli side argue that Abbas is not a suitable partner for peace. But as the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin observed, "you don't make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies." There is no doubt that the current Palestinian leadership is far from perfect. Many faults can be found and failed opportunities debated. But Abbas has kept to a policy of non-~iolence and Worked to make Israeli-Palestinians security and economic cooperation succeed. He recog- nizes Israel's right to exist and rejects tl~e use of terrorism. If Israel doesn't work with current Palestinian leaders, one thing is for sure: it will be much, much harder to deal with those who replace them. Those who speak of delaying the peace initia- tive until a more propitious time should give some idea of when that time might come becausewith every day thatpasses, Israel's settlement footprint in the West Bank grows larger and the prospects of ever reaching a settlement grow dimmer. The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem grew by more than 15,000 in 2012 to reach a total that for the first time topped 350,000, according to official Israeli statistics, The number has almost doubled in the past 12 years. At some pointwithin the next few years, that growth will become irreversible and the opportunity to establish a Palestinian state will disappear. Israel would then either have to grant the two million Palestinians living in the WestBank and East Jerusalem the right to vote, in which case Israel's Jewish majority would vanish, or deny them that right, in which case Israel as a democratic state would vanish. Or it could try to persuade them to accept limited autonomy, in certain enclaves. History has given us a word for that--"Bantustans'--and neither the Palestinians nor the international community would stand for it. We need to get away from the attitude that one side would be doing the other a big favor by agreeing to peace talks. President Obama needs to persuade both parties that the talks should not bo about what each side may have to sacrifice but about what they stand to gain. If he can make some headway in that task, his trip will have been a success. Alan Elsner, a former Reuters correspondent in Jerusalem and at the State Department, is vice president for Communications for J Street, a U. S.-basedIsrael advocacy group that supports a two-state solution.