Thomas Friedman is missing George Bush

Posted: November 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Thomas Friedman’s last Sunday’s column at the NYT got considerable attention in Israel. Friedman’s article, who called the US to put its current diplomatic effort in the Middle East to a halt – due to lack of interest from the parties involved – was quoted on and even got some sort of response from Ehud Barak. Israel’s defense Minister described the Obama presidency as “a rare opportunity to reach peace.”, before going on with his usual blaming of the Palestinians and Arab Leaders for missing this very opportunity (Barak’s attitude is so narrow-minded and his conduct is so annoying, that he seems like the only person still capable of stirring some emotions in the Israeli Left. This Saturday he was even booed at the Rabin Memorial Rally).

Friedman, who as a reporter was stationed both in Jerusalem and Beirut, thinks that the US president is wasting his time in trying to get the Palestinians and the Israelis to the table. In recent Middle East history, claims Friedman, diplomatic progress occurred only when both sides desired it, and not when it was imposed from outside:

The fact is, the only time America has been able to advance peace — post-Yom Kippur War, Camp David, post-Lebanon war, Madrid and Oslo — has been when the parties felt enough pain for different reasons that they invited our diplomacy, and we had statesmen — Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, George Shultz, James Baker and Bill Clinton — savvy enough to seize those moments.

Today, the Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians are clearly not feeling enough pain to do anything hard for peace with each other — a mood best summed up by a phrase making the rounds at the State Department: The Palestinian leadership “wants a deal with Israel without any negotiations” and Israel’s leadership “wants negotiations with the Palestinians without any deal.”

I find this reading of history extremely naïve. In fact, I think what’s true is almost the opposite: the parties in the Middle East shed each other’s blood as long as the international community, and most notably the US, allowed them to. Examples: the US allowing Israel to hit Egypt in 56′ but than forcing it to evacuate the Sinai peninsula; the US stopping the IDF on 73′, and saving the Egyptian Third Army; the US forcing Israel to let the PLO evacuate Beirut before the IDF enters the city. This goes on to our very days: Why do you think Israel was in such a hurry to finish its attack in Gaza on the same week George Bush left the White House?

But my problem with what Friedman wrote goes deeper than his historical perspective. Read the end of his article:

It is obvious that this Israeli government believes it can have peace with the Palestinians and keep the West Bank, this Palestinian Authority still can’t decide whether to reconcile with the Jewish state or criminalize it and this Hamas leadership would rather let Palestinians live forever in the hellish squalor that is Gaza than give up its crazy fantasy of an Islamic Republic in Palestine.

If we are still begging Israel to stop building settlements, which is so manifestly idiotic, and the Palestinians to come to negotiations, which is so manifestly in their interest, and the Saudis to just give Israel a wink, which is so manifestly pathetic, we are in the wrong place. It’s time to call a halt to this dysfunctional “peace process,” which is only damaging the Obama team’s credibility.

If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don’t want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they’ll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed U.S. plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table. Let’s fight about something big.

While I may agree with what the way Friedman views the current Israeli policies – let’s assume even that he got the Palestinian side right – the problem is with his conclusions, or with the absence of some of them.

The US diplomatic engagement in the region is only the tip of the iceberg. When Friedman says that “we are in the wrong place”, does he also mean that the 3 billion dollar annual military and economical support Israel receives from the US goes in the wrong place? Is he saying that the US should re-consider its automatic veto on Security Council resolutions that troubles Israel? Does he call for the Pentagon to stop its military support of the IDF, because we end up with US subsided weapons used to guard the settlements that the White House want dismantled?

Because if that’s what Friedman means, he should say so (unless he is afraid of the reactions he might meet, and in this case, he should give up writing altogether). If, on the other hand, all he thinks is that the US should carry on with its support of Israel and Israeli policies, and just drop the diplomatic effort to end the occupation for now, he could make things much easier by simply saying we should go back to the first six years of the Bush administration, when the Palestinian leaders were Persona Non Grata in Washington and Israel got a Carte Blanche in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

Even the Neo-Cons of the Bush administration arrived at the conclusion that this wasn’t such a good idea, so they came up with the road map and the Annapolis summit. And now Friedman is asking Obama – who promised that the US will not turn its back on the Palestinian people again – to walk the same road?

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