Sense and Nonsense: Washington Times and Baltimore Sun Editorials

Baltimore Sun editorials on Arab-Israeli news are often superficial or irrelevant. The Sun‘s “A map of the world; Our view: Despite America’s economic woes, foreign policy issues could preoccupy the next president, but a Mideast deal won’t be one” (November 10) is both. Contrasted with Washington Times editorials “Testing President-elect Obama” (November 10) and “Peace talks?” (November 7), The Sun‘s analytical failure is plain.
The Sun observes that “ending the war in Iraq, policing Iran, containing Russia, securing Afghanistan” all pose more immediate concerns for President-elect Barack Obama than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It fails to connect “policing Iran,” which backs Hamas (the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement), Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah (the Lebanese Party of God), with easing Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.

• According to The Sun, regarding Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, “not much can be done in Jerusalem until there is a new Israeli government,” and Israel’s February election “could determine” how active the new U.S. administration will be. Placement of primary responsibility for Middle East progress, regardless of Arab and Iranian behavior, on Israel is typical of the paper. The editorial gives no hint that Iran already may be rehearsing its test of the new administration: The day after Obama was elected president, terrorists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip b roke a truce by firing 35 rockets into southern Israel.

• Election of the Likud Party under Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel “would be a setback for any peace deal with the Palestinians,” The Sun opines. Yet as prime minister from 1996 – 1999, Netanyahu reached several agreements with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority that required Israeli withdrawals from parts of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin negotiated Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab state, the Egyptian-Israel accord of 1979. It led to complete Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula.
The Sun story allows that PA President “Mahmoud Abbas may face his own political problems. Leaders of the militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, contend Mr. Abbas’ term as president should end in January.” The Sun omits that Hamas contends Abbas’ term ends in January because the PA constitution says so; Hamas has posed as upholder of the law while Abbas’ Fatah movement supporters have sought a way to extend his term.
The problem Abbas and the rest of Fatah face is not so much one of politics but survival. In recent months top Israeli security and political leaders have stated that without continuing Israeli military activity in the West Bank, including arrests of Hamas members, the Islamic fundamentalists would oust Abbas’ party just as they did from the Gaza Strip.
• Twirling the globe, The Sun asserts “there is no dearth of international concerns that could preoccupy Mr. Obama. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, U.S. allies in the Arab world, view a resolution of the Palestine [emphasis added] issue as a key to the region’s political ills.” There has been no Palestine since the end of the British Mandate in 1948. That’s when Israel joined Jordan as a successor state to parts of Mandatory Palestine, with the disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip awaiting allocation. There is no “Palestine issue.” There remains the issue of whether the Arab world will accept Jewish sovereignty and equality in part of what was Palestine. 
As for resolution of this question being key to the ills of the Arab Middle East, the United Nations’ 2002 and 2003 reports on Arab human development noted that lack of education; of investment; research; rule of law; political freedom; women, minority and religious rights caused the region’s stagnation. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been maintained by Arab regimes, in part, as an excuse for lack of freedom and modernization at home.
In contrast, The Washington Times‘ editorials were pertinent and to the point.
• “Testing President-elect Obama” (November 10) stressed that Iran is likely to be among the first countries to test Obama and “it is a leading supporter of terrorist groups including Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Instead of calling them “militant groups,” as The Sun referred to Hamas, The Washington Times noted that these are “terrorist groups” and Iran, “seeking to develop nuclear weapons,” is one of their leading supporters.
Pointing out that as senators President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden exhorted the Bush administration to hold talks with Iran without preconditions and that “failure to do so was a colossal blunder,” The Washington Times added that Israel’s foreign minister and Kadima Party Chairman Tzipi Livni, “a moderate dove,” said calling for “dialogue” with Iran “is liable to be interpreted as weakness.”
The Times interpreted the post-election rocket fire from Gaza into Israel by “Tehran’s terrorist proxies” as Iran’s “own message to Washington ….  If Iran is prepared to act this way without nuclear weapons, what will it do if it obtains them? Look for [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to begin testing Mr. Obama and his national security team in earnest well before Inauguration Day.”
In “Peace Talks?” (November 7) The Times itemized Abbas’ “political problem” and Israel’s security danger: “Security in the West Bank hangs by a thread. Palestinian forces cannot maintain security control on their own. If it were not for nightly Israeli raids in search of terror cells, it is an open question whether Mr. Abbas would be able to maintain power in the face of a growing challenge from Hamas. As for Gaza, Hamas rule has transformed the Strip into what is perhaps the world’s No. 1 terrorist statelet. Given these realities, it is unclear precisely what the United States can accomplish” by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s “quixotic bid to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.”
Most big-city American daily newspapers have suffered declining circulation and revenue for more than a decade, and the once-influential Sun more than many others. Middle East editorials with greater clarity and closer relationship with pertinent facts might not arrest the slide, but they would provide a reason to regret it.

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