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Washington Post’s Israel Correspondent Sees ‘New Hamas Pragmatism’ in Light of Arab Spring

I just read a story by the Washington Post’s Israel correspondent, Joel Greenberg which makes me retain some hope that this media outlet isn’t a hopeless slave to the pro-Israel hasbara line advocated in the Op-Ed section by Fred Hiatt. Though I don’t follow the Post as closely as I do the NY Times, I’m fairly sure Greenberg must be newish to the assignment as I remember they had another reporter there until recently. If that’s the case, it could bode well for the future independence of WaPo coverage there.

Greenberg was a reporter for the NY Times in Israel from the early 1990s through the early 2000s. Though accusations made against him during the Ethan Bronner IDF fiasco noted that Greenberg served in the IDF while he was covering the country for the Times, they did not note that he became an early seruvnik by refusing to serve in Lebanon in 1983. This was an especially brave act in those days and remains so today.

Greenberg’s reporting on the first Intifada exposed some of the worst excesses of the IDF in suppressing it, which was another brave reportorial choice for which he deserves credit. He is also the son of one of the most brilliant and respected Bible scholars of the era, Moshe Greenberg. I had the honor of studying with him twice, once as an undergraduate in Israel and once as a grad student. He was a towering figure intellectually and Jewishly. His students stood in awe of him.

Larry Cohler Esses, who updated my earlier incomplete reporting about Joel Greenberg’s background, informs me that the Bible scholar published a searing critique of racism among the most right wing Orthodox movements like Chabad. In fact, he accused such groups of advocating notions of Jewish genetic superiority that remind one of an earlier era (his way of politely referring to the Nazis).

Today’s story about the increasing moderation and pragmatism in Hamas’ political pronouncements is very acute reporting. Greenberg notes that the Arab Spring has proven a potential game-changer, not just for the Arab states which have toppled dictators, but for Hamas as well. He points to Hamas’ increasing distance from Bashar al-Assad’s tainted Syrian regime (as opposed to Hezbollah and Iran, which appear to have learned little from the bloodbath ensuing there).

He notes Hamas’ increasing convergence with the new Egyptian political reality and the Muslim Brotherhood there, which may form a majority government after elections are completed. If the moderate Islamists form a coalition that includes non-Islamists, that will send a strong signal to Hamas that it can and should do the same.

The proof of course is in the pudding, and it remains to be seen whether Hamas can overcome its antipathy to Fatah and join in a unity government, as it has been threatening to do for what seems like years now.

Hamas is now looking to nations like Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia for it’s models of political Islam and not to its soon to be former patrons in Damascus and possibly Teheran.

What is important about Greenberg’s story is that he’s rejecting the storyline spoon fed by Israeli politicians to the media and the west, that the Arab states are transitioning from an Arab Spring to an Islamist Winter. This is utter nonsense of course and corresponds to almost nothing in the current Arab reality. Though it does correspond to an Israeli narrative which sees the Arabs as evil and Israel as the sole remaining western bulwark against radical Islam (see my recent post about Bogie Yaalon’s foreign press briefing last week).

It remains to be seen whether Hamas can truly capitalize on these massive changes in the Arab world. But any reasonable observer’s money has to be on Hamas rather than Israel as most likely to take advantage of the transformation and exploit it to their advantage.

One factor Greenberg didn’t mention is Hamas’ massive success in freeing 1,500 prisoners from Israeli jails in return for the freeing of Gilad Shalit. Not only is this seen as a success inside Gaza, but in Palestine as a whole, and even beyond. Israeli and U.S. media have been filled with stories proclaiming the biggest winner in the prisoner swap as Hamas (and not Israel).

If this is the quality of future reporting that Greenberg brings to this assignment, then I’ll have to branch out from my reliance on the Times for my main dose of U.S. MSM coverage of the conflict. Thanks for

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Carl December 22, 2011, 2:18 AM

    Joel Greenberg has been doing good reporting.

    • dickerson3870 December 22, 2011, 2:41 PM

      RE: “Joel Greenberg has been doing good reporting.” ~ Carl

      MY REPLY: I agree!

      FOR INSTANCE, SEE: Palestinian ‘Freedom Riders’ arrested on bus to Jerusalemlink to washingtonpost.com

  • Bob Mann December 22, 2011, 10:09 AM

    What is the basis for your claim that the prisoner exchange is seen as a success inside Gaza and beyond?

    Certainly Palestinian public opinion on this front is not based on Israeli and US media?

    So what is your source here?

    I ask because a survey I read showed that the opinion of Hamas either went down or remained unchanged as a result of the exchange by the majority of Palestinians.

    Also, surveys indicate that Fatah is more popular than Hamas both in West Bank and Gaza – and Hamas would be left out in the cold were an election allowed to occur.

    In the West Bank, Abbas would beat Haniyeh 56 – 33, while in Gaza Abbas would beat Haniyeh 54-42.

    The rejection of Hamas by the majority of Palestinians is a positive development in my view. Do you disagree?

    • Mary Hughes-Thompson December 22, 2011, 6:57 PM

      Sort of like in the U.S. Sometimes the Democrats are more popular while other times the Republicans are more popular. That seems to be the way it is with political parties such as Fatah and Hamas, pretty much the way it is in Israel too.

    • Richard Silverstein December 22, 2011, 8:16 PM

      I’m not arguing whether I support Hamas or even whether Palestinians should. That’s their own choice. But clearly Hamas represents a sizable portion of Palestinian public opinion and as long as it does, what Hamas believes is important to acknowledge. Similarly, it’s critical for Israel and the U.S. to do so as well. And as long as both have their heads in the sand on this issue, there won’t be serious progress.

      It’s clear that Palestinian opinion unanimously supports freeing of Palestinian prisoners and whoever succeeds at doing so will secure great credit. Hamas may fall below Fatah’s support in polls currently, but I pretty much won’t trust such polls till there’s a real election to test it. Frankly, I don’t like either one, but for different reasons. But it’s not my election & not my choice.

      • Bob Mann December 22, 2011, 8:48 PM

        I agree with just about everything you’ve written here.

        I do believe, however, that there is nothing wrong with an outsider having a “rooting interest” so to speak with respect to the outcome of whatever future Palestinian elections may take place.

        Many around the world who were not Americans were very much hoping, for instance, for Obama to win the last US presidential election and were not at all pleased with Bush’s earlier victories, such as they were.

        You yourself have expressed great dismay with the results of the last Israeli elections. You certainly didn’t simply say “it’s not my election & not my choice” with respect to the victory of Netanyahu and his coalition, even though you are not Israeli.

        Wouldn’t you have similar concerns with the results of elections on the Palestinian side – of a coalition possibly taking power promoting values that you may find repugnant, as you do with the values of the current Israeli leadership?

        • Richard Silverstein December 23, 2011, 12:21 PM

          But I am Jewish and a Zionist and so feel a much stronger sense of engagement in the Israeli political process. But I no longer believe it makes much difference who wins the next Israeli election.

          And as a non Arab & non Palestinian Palestinian elections are not ones where I feel comfortable interceding in a similar way.

  • delia ruhe December 22, 2011, 2:11 PM

    The WaPo may be part of the collapsing consensus:

    link to salon.com

  • Michael Shepard December 22, 2011, 3:34 PM

    Don’t make it seem that Hamas is from Mars or something. Don’t make this into an either/or, choose this=reject that story.

    Hamas and Fatah ‘seem’ to have come to an understanding; that is about the Palestinians. It is not about Arab spring or about what the Muslim Brotherhood did/does. It should have happened a long time ago and there is responsibility (or blame) enough to go around. Hamas was/is a legitimate elected representative of a significant portion of the Palestinian population. And Hamas never had any opportunity to show how it would govern under anything that resembled normal circumstances. So, it was not crazy – or rejectionist for not wanting to give away the store to the side that lost the last round of elections.

    It is particularly American to approach all Arab groups and Muslim groups and look for the good guy and the bad guy — in this case, Fatah is the good guy? Because …. they what, went to the UN and asked for a country? How did that make them the good guys in the eyes of the Americans? Oh because Hamas uses violence MORE these days than does Fatah? That puts Fatah on the right side of Arab spring and Hamas on the wrong side? These binary oppositions don’t capture the full complexity of the situation.

    Fatah has been on the payroll of the west since 1994, and in that time, has tended to be more cooperative with American interests. But Arafat was held personally responsible for stages of the Second Intifada and the Israelis bulldozed up to his door in Ramallah. So today’s good guy was yesterday’s bad guy.

    The consensus of the Palestinians can’t be judged based on opinion polls, whatever people claim reflects their feelings TODAY. That is what we have elections for.

    ‘New pragmaticism’ … maybe. Both sides in Palestine have been trying to form a unity government since 2006 and a variety of forces have interfered — particularly outside forces. Israel does not want any new pragmatism from Hamas. So where does that put the Israelis in the scheme of the Arab spring?

    When any Arab group or individual or any Muslim does something that is praised by somebody from the west, I always assume that this group or person just got suckered (think of the west’s hero, Anwar Sadat). Because why would anyone in the west want an Arab or a Muslim to actually stand up for his own rights in his own part of the world?

  • Aonee December 22, 2011, 3:51 PM

    Bargaining 1500 palestinian prisoners for 1 israeli soldier. How can anyone miss the winner in this exchange. It has been categorically proved that israel values its subjects more than Hamas(or Fatah) do.

    Action speaks much louder than words and deep down even palestinians must have taken note of it.

    • Richard Silverstein December 22, 2011, 8:01 PM

      This is utter racist horse manure. And if you repeat such disgusting notions here again you’ll be moderated. I will not allow you or anyone else proclaim that Israelis value life more than Palestinians or others to claim that Palestinians value life more than Israelis. You may of course claim that one side doesn’t value life without comparing it to the other side, but only if you offer credible evidence to support the claim.

    • sleeper December 22, 2011, 10:42 PM

      It’s not about value – it is about respective power of Israel and the Palestinians. Israel has around 11,000 Palestinian prisoners – so putting it another way, Israel has had 100% of its prisoners returned whereas Palestine has only achieved less than 15%. Moreover almost 500 Palestinians have been arrested by Israel since the initial release – at least according to this:

      link to alethonews.wordpress.com

      And Israel only values its subjects (which as of today apparently includes the West Bank and Gaza since these are “domestic affairs” of Israel according to a Foreign Ministry announcement) if they are Jews. Now that is racism!

      link to nytimes.com

    • Elisabeth December 23, 2011, 12:14 PM

      I agree with Sleeper: 1500 against 1 quite correctly expresses the unequal balance of power. And nothing more. Having the upper hand and then ridiculing and demeaning your weaker opponent: Disgusting Aonee.

  • Joel December 23, 2011, 5:55 AM

    But for the ‘Arab Spring’, Hamas would not be moderating her stance towards Israel. Got it.

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