Tom Friedman has long since ceased being relevant in any meaningful way to the debate about the Israeli-Arab conflict. But every once in a while he weighs in from on-high where he dwells with the journalistic equivalent of the Delphic oracle. Yesterday, he wrote a paean to the “new” Palestine under the effective, vigorous, non-corrupt leadership of rump Fatah prime minister Salam Fayyad. And I tell you Salam is one heckuva guy. So swell that Tom coined one those neologisms of which he is so godawful proud–Fayyadism:
Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services.
It means basically, this guy’s everything Hamas is not; and everything Arafat was not. A guy Israel and the U.S. can do business with.
He prefaced his column with an “analysis” of the deficiencies of governance in the Arab world:
In 2002, the U.N. Development Program released its first ever Arab Human Development Report, which bluntly detailed the deficits of freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge-creation holding back the Arab world…
Coming out so soon after 9/11, the report felt like a diagnosis of all the misgovernance bedeviling the Arab world, creating the pools of angry, unemployed youth, who become easy prey for extremists. Well, the good news is that the U.N. Development Program…came out with a new Arab Human Development report. The bad news: Things have gotten worse — and many Arab governments don’t want to hear about it.
Tom takes the typically noblesse oblige western approach to the morass that is the Middle East: look at the mess those Arabs have made of things! If they’d only tidy themselves up a bit they could even be presentable at one of our dinner parties!
What Tom conveniently forgets is the mess that we westerners have made of the Middle East ourselves after a century or more of colonization, war, and all manner of misbehavior. How far back does one want to go? If we stay within recent memory we can recite a litany of bad behavior from the U.S.’ 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratic government, France’s debacle in Algeria, our decades-long support for the Shah, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, etc. While no one here is excusing the Arabs’ own share of responsibility for their woes, to blithely blame all the misery on them means you’re wearing historical blinders.
And in his entire recitation, he focuses almost entirely on economic factors that inhibit development in the Arab world and has nary a word to say about politics, liberty, democracy or human rights. Which is why he can champion the West Bank economic miracle, all the while ignoring the terrific fragility of this hothouse flower in the absence of a key ingredient for growth: political freedom.
The root of this story is that Tom Friedman decided to waste his and the NY Times’ time and money by covering Fatah’s first party conference in 20 years (one that had been scheduled and continually cancelled for over a decade). What was so momentous that Tom thought it worth his while to attend? Frankly, you’ve got me. But the general impression is that Tom’s been reading his colleague Ethan Bronner’s copy extolling the virtues of the “new” West Bank under the shiny leadership of the self-same Fayyad. Malls are opening, people are attending the movies, a major road checkpoint or two has been removed by those gracious hosts, the IDF. It’s a regular economic miracle! Well, Tom doesn’t go quite that far. He only titles his column, Green Shoots in Palestine. He could’ve called it Fayyad’s Miracle or some such nonsense. But even he realizes that whatever progress is being made in the West Bank is tenuous.
That doesn’t stop him from drinking some very serious Kool-Aid regarding the wonders being implemented by Fatah in the West Bank. Just for example, if you’ve ever wanted to know how Palestine is like an off-Broadway show, just ask Tom. He’s not shy, he’ll tell ya. But before he does I’ve got to say this guy has one helluva case of self-regard:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the wider Middle East what off-Broadway is to Broadway. It is where all good and bad ideas get tested out first. Well, the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, a former I.M.F. economist, is testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever. I call it “Fayyadism.”
Tom Terrific thinks things are just peachy keen in Fayyadville:
Things are truly getting better in the West Bank, thanks to a combination of Fayyadism, improved Palestinian security and a lifting of checkpoints by Israel. In all of 2008, about 1,200 new companies registered for licenses here. In the first six months of this year, almost 900 have registered. According to the I.M.F., the West Bank economy should grow by 7 percent this year.
What Tom neglects to tell you is that the West Bank economy has been a basket case since the first intifada which was 20 years ago. So a 7% growth rate appears terrific, but not so much when you look at it in economic context (which Tom doesn’t of course).
When you read the following passage, besides noting the dripping condescension towards the Arab bruthas, note what is missing (hint: it starts with an “I”):
Something quite new is happening here. And given the centrality of the Palestinian cause in Arab eyes, if Fayyadism works, maybe it could start a trend in this part of the world — one that would do the most to improve Arab human security — good, accountable government.
The world according to Tom posits that Palestinians are solely responsible for their own fate. And if Fayyadism fails, then certainly the Palestinians will have only themselves to blame. What is remarkable about this entire column that there is not a single reference to Israel or the Occupation. It’s as if Robert Oppenheimer sat in a room with the Manhattan Project scientists and never mentioned the word “nuclear fission.” How in the hell is Salam Fayyad supposed to succeed without addressing that 800 lb. elephant in the room?
Not to mention that the focus on economics to the exclusion of all else suits the Bibi narrative perfectly: give ’em a few more jobs, ease up on the checkpoints so it takes only 2 hours to go 5 miles instead of five, put some more products on the store shelves. In short, let ’em eat cake. If they eat enough of it they’ll forget about their political goals and be satisfied with the fact that Israel doesn’t plan on giving an inch on any of the major political issues.
Really, Tom, is this the best you can do? It seems that long ago he started phoning it in and this story is a prime example: smug, self-serving, simplistic. A sad development for this former Pulitzer-Prize winner.