April 24, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for May 23, 2012


Column without purpose

Thomas Friedman's latest, Power with purpose, exhorts Prime Minister Netanyahu to engage in "constructive unilateralism" as proposed in a recent op-ed Peace without Partners by Ami Ayalon, Orni Petruschka and Gilead Sher. The problem is that, as with the earlier op-ed, the onus for peacemaking falls strictly on Israel.

Here's the impetus for Friedman's suggestion:

I’m keeping an open mind, but the temptation for Bibi to do nothing will be enormous. The Palestinians are divided between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and both populations are tired. Moreover, economic conditions have improved in the West Bank in recent years, and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces are keeping a tight rein on anti-Israeli violence. Aid from the U.S., Europe and the Arabs pays a lot of the authority’s budget. Israel’s security wall keeps Palestinian suicide bombers out. The U.S. election silences any criticism coming from Washington about Israeli settlements. The Israeli peace camp is dead, and the Arab awakening has most Arab states enfeebled or preoccupied. So Israel gets to build settlements, while the Arabs, Americans, Europeans and Palestinians fund and sustain a lot of the occupation.

No wonder then that for most Israelis, the West Bank could be East Timor. “We see the writing on the wall, but we don’t care,” says the columnist Nahum Barnea of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, referring to the fact that Arabs could soon outnumber Jews in areas under Israeli control.

Friedman remains a one trick pony. Israel must make peace else Israel will cease to be either Jewish or democratic. This hasn't been true since the end of 1995 as the L.A. Times reported:

In the last seven weeks Israel has handed over six West Bank towns and more than 400 villages to the Palestinian Authority. The authority now controls about 90% of the West Bank's more than 1 million Arabs, and about one-third of the land in the Delaware-size territory.

The question that remains is what the exact borders of the Palestinian state will be. As long as Abbas, or whomever leads the PA, refuses to negotiate that won't be decided. But a vast majority of the Palestinians are no longer under Israel's jurisdiction and thus not part of any calculation of Israel's population. (In addition to which, despite Barnea's and Friedman's claim, as noted above, the demographic projections have changed.) Friedman's insistence that Israel needs to satisfy Palestinian demands to preserve its legitimacy simply gives the Palestinians a veto over any Israeli offer, relieving the Palestinians any impetus to come to an agreement.

Of course there's also the situation that Friedman sketches out that's not quite accurate. If the Palestinian Authority was keeping "a tight rein on anti-Israel violence" Israel wouldn't have needed to arrest the kidnapping ring a few days ago. Israel, though tax remittances helps fund the Palestinians and should have been included in the list those who support the PA's budget but the Palestinians in no way fund the "occupation" as Friedman suggests.

The reason Israel's peace camp is dead is because of the Palestinian refusal to negotiate in good faith and come to an agreement. Twice (at least) now, Palestinian leaders – Arafat in 2000 and 2001 and Abbas in 2008 – have refused final status agreements. But to Friedman, making concessions for peace is Israel's obligation alone; he doesn't even mention that (moderate) Fatah has been a lot more committed to making an agreement with the terrorist organization Hamas, than with making peace with Israel.

Friedman writes further:

Whenever a nation or leader amasses this much power, with no checks coming from anywhere, the probability of misreading events grows exponentially. Bibi could be assuming that the Palestinians in the West Bank can be pacified simply with better economic conditions. Don’t count on it. Humiliation remains the single most powerful human emotion. It trumps economic well-being every time. Bibi could be assuming that the Palestinian security services will indefinitely act as Israel’s forward police force in the West Bank — absent any hopes of Palestinian statehood. Not likely — eventually they will be viewed as “traitors.” Bibi could be assuming that Israel could strike Iran — and upend the world economy — and still continue to build settlements in the West Bank. I would not bet on that; the global backlash could be severe. Bibi could be assuming that the West Bank Palestinian leadership will always be moderate, secular and pro-Western. If only …

While it's true that having no checks on power leads to mistakes, he is wrong that Netanyahu has no checks. As it stands, Netanyahu represents a vast majority of Israel's electorate. If he acts in a way that alienates too many of his partners, he will lose that margin or possibly his power.

It may well be that Palestinians feel humiliation but is it really the "most powerful human emotion?" I would have thought that hate or love would be. And is it the lack of statehood that feeds this humiliation or the bombardment of anti-Israel propaganda in the Palestinian media that purports that Israel has no right to exist? Put another, is the "humiliation" that Friedman cites the result of Israeli policies or of Israel's existence?

I don't believe for a moment, as Friedman seems to, that Netanyahu's decision, if he makes it, to attack Iran will be capricious. If he and his government choose to attack, it will be because they are convinced that a significant and immediate threat to Israel's security exists.

Furthermore, Friedman seems convinced that that only Israel is threatened by Iran. It would be more correct to say that Israel understands the threat that Iran represents better than most Western countries do. If the West helps prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons it will be doing itself a favor too.

Finally, what's really ugly about the above paragraph is the way Friedman uses loaded terms like "humiliation" and "traitors" as a way of excusing terror against Israel.

Finally, let's take a look at the second paragraph of the column:

The stakes could not be higher — for him and Israel. Ami Ayalon, the former commander of Israel’s Navy and later its domestic intelligence service, put it to me this way: “I imagine a book called ‘Jewish Leaders in Recent History’ that one day Bibi’s grandson will be reading. What will it say? In one version, I imagine the section about the State of Israel will say that Herzl envisaged it, Ben-Gurion built it and Netanyahu secured it as a Jewish democracy.” But there is another version that could also be written, added Ayalon. “This version will describe Herzl and Ben-Gurion in the same way, but it will say of Netanyahu that he was the only Israeli leader who had the political power and he missed his moment in history” — and, thereby, created a situation in which Israel is not a Jewish democracy anymore. “Now is his moment to decide.”

Friedman's telling us that the new coalition is of huge importance because it allows Netanayhu to follow his advice and make huge new concessions that will somehow magically make the Palestinians negotiate a final status agreement with Israel.

If the moment is so important

why did it take Friedman two weeks to write a column on the new

development? And why, instead of crafting a column with a coherent

argument did he simply throw together a mixture of dubious demographics

and sociology, unsupported assertions and someone else's op-ed? If

Friedman really believed in the urgency of the situation, he'd have

offered some original insight instead of a column that amounts to reheated verbal cholent.

It isn't entirely accurate to claim that this column had no purpose;

Friedman sees the new governing coalition as one more excuse to blame

Israel.

Related thoughts from My Right Word and Jonathan Tobin.

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.