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ARAB WORLD: Media take aim at Palestinian Authority over renewed settlement expansion

September 27, 2010 |  9:49 am


Images of Israeli settlers cheering as the first cement for a new foundation was poured dominated much of the Arabic news cycle on Monday, the day after a 10-month partial moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank expired.

The tone of the coverage was subdued but also pointed. Pan-Arab satellite channels such as Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and Al Hurra reported that construction began "within hours" of the settlement freeze "despite" pleas from the United Nations for Israel to extend the ban.

Al Hurra, which is funded by the U.S. government, appeared to make a half-hearted attempt to highlight some Israeli opposition to the government's decision to allow the ban to expire, while the Doha, Qatar-based Al Jazeera focused on the current government's dependence on its right-wing base.

In the eyes of regional media, the resumption of settlement construction threatens to seriously undermine the Palestinian Authority, which recently entered into peace talks with the Jewish state despite widespread skepticism among Arabs. The authority has not pulled out of talks so far, but has already lost considerable face.

The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi published a scathing editorial on Sunday that basically accused the leadership of selling out the Palestinian cause.

"The settlers wasted no time beginning construction yesterday throughout the settlements, while [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's government committed itself to silence and the Palestinian Authority, its leadership and spokesmen disappeared from view, and there was a hushed agreement with their Israeli counterparts not to make statements to the press," the editorial said.

"Most Palestinians lost trust in the authority after it lost what was left of its credibility, and they no longer believe the statements and positions of its leadership," it continued. "What does [President Mahmoud] Abbas want then? To stay in power even as the Palestinian Authority quickly becomes a tool of the occupation for the suppression of the [Palestinian] people, the protection of settlers and their expansionist projects, the burning of farms, confiscation of land and the complete Judaization of Jerusalem."

Samih Shbeib, writing in the West Bank-based Al-Ayyam on Monday, expressed frustration over the U.S. position and noted Arab disillusionment with the peace process, but refrained from laying full responsibility at the feet of the authority.

"What will be the position of the United States after President Obama, from the podium of the United Nations, asked Israel to halt settlement expansion?" he wrote. "Will it hold Israel responsible for stopping settlement, which is what we want and support?"

He predicted a fragile peace easily destroyed by extremists. "There will be multiple parties who have an interest in undermining the state of relative stability and raising the temperature," he said.

Some critics lamented the overall weakness of the Arab states, including Egypt, which is backing the talks. Essam El Eryan, a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, penned a cynical piece for Egypt's leading opposition daily, Al Dostor. He struck at the Egyptian regime, which he called "a frail and disorganized Arab regime, taking its final breaths and giving political cover and legitimacy to all indirect and direct negotiations in the presence of the American ambassador in Cairo."

But some despaired not just over the peace talks but the overall situation. George Semaan, writing in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, noted that  negotiations may be the only means of staving off a complete breakdown in the peace process.

"Even those opposed to the negotiations from within the 'resistance movement,' what alternatives are they offering, and haven't they all been tried and tested?" he wrote. "The only alternatives are a return to the cycle of violence, which does nothing except strengthen hardliners on both sides ... or to wait for the next all-out war to reshuffle the deck and push everyone to the negotiating table for a comprehensive settlement."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut and Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Israeli settlers and their supporters on Sunday celebrate the resumption of settlement construction. Credit: EPA