NY Times exculpates Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas while tarring Netanyahu

Unlike many other media which reported in some detail  the meeting of Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jordan on Jan. 3, the New York Times used the occasion to delve into various regional forces that impinge on progress -- or lack thereof -- in the peace process.

In a purported "news" article spread across six columns, Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner sets out to plumb new Mideast realities  shaped by the emergence of "political Islam as a potentially transformative force in the region."  ("As Israelis and Palestinians Talk, the Rise of Political Islam Alters the Equation" page A6, Jan. 4).

The question, of course, is whether the rise of Islamist parties in Egypt and elsewhere bodes ill or well.   What exactly will be the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Gaza offshoot, Hamas?

Bronner resolutely steps forward as bearer of good news.  When it comes to political Islam, "there are indications in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco as well as within Hamas itself," he writes, " that it is more pragmatic than when it was merely a force of opposition.  Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of Hamas, has expressed a willingness to work with Mr. Abbas in a far more accommodating way than in the past, especially in the area of using nonviolence to oppose Israel."

To back up this conclusion, Bronner quotes Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of a Palestinian research group in Jerusalem, who asserts that "there is a historic development by Hamas in the last two months.  It is going through the same process as the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere.  The new political Islam is practical and realistic."

Thus, Bronner's signal to American readers and policy makers is clear:  No need to worry about the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas anymore.  These erstwhile practitioners and advocates of terrorism have turned into "practical and realistic" political players.

Really?  Bronner's upbeat report somehow doesn't square with a drive within the Muslim Brotherhood to hold a referendum in Egypt to revisit, revise or ultimately abrogate its peace treaty with Israel.  At bottom, Bronner's piece is essentially an exercise in wishful thinking.  At best, its conclusions are much too premature.  The Brotherhood, while having scored huge victories in Egyptian elections, has yet to form or shape a new government.  Who will head this government?  And what will its domestic and foreign policies really be?  From his Olympian heights, Bronner purports to have some blinding insights.  But these are merely subjective opinions.  They belong on the op-ed page - not in the news section.

And what about his roseate view of Hamas?  What evidence is there to support his assessment that Hamas suddenly has become "far more accommodating" in its rivalry with Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas?  And how and where has Hamas abandoned its terror-soaked "resistance" strategy and replaced it with "nonviolence" against Israel?  There have been numerous demurrals by Hamas officials in recent days and weeks that Hamas has not changed its spots and will not do so.  Again, as with the Brotherhood, Bronner is looking at Hamas through rose-tinted glasses.  And spectacularly ignoring their dark sides.


No such roseate perspective, however, permeates Bronner's assessment of Israel's stance vis a vis the peace process.  While he acknowledges that Israeli land concessions, whether retreats from Gaza or South Lebanon, have boomeranged, Bronner nevertheless faults Israel for putting too much stock on the high price it  paid for taking land-for-peace risks in the past, what with Hezbollah now stronger than ever in Lebanon and Hamas and other terror groups holding sway in Gaza.  To Bronner, that's just an Israeli excuse to do nothing.

"The issue (of engaging in more land concessions) is not merely strategic but ideological and political, perhaps the hardest to overcome," he writes.  "Mr. Netanyahu's coalition is dominated by parties and politicians that favor Israeli settlements in the West Bank and are highly skeptical about - if not outright hostile to - a Palestinian state."

So there's Bronner's bottom line:  Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are trustworthy players.  It's only Israel that gums up the works.  Never mind that Netanyahu has embraced the two-state solution and keeps pushing for negotiations to bring it about, while Abbas stokes anti-Israel incitement and Hamas, committed to Israel's destruction, is irrevocably opposed to  negotiations.  The only Mideast villain is Bibi.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers

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