Tom Friedman has written one of the oddest, most dispirited columns of his career advocating that the Obama administration turn its back on Israel and Palestine as ungrateful obstructionists to the U.S. sponsored peace process. Personally, I think Friedman’s piece demonstrates the bankruptcy of the liberal vision of the conflict which argues that the U.S. can’t want peace more than the parties themselves. I call it: when the going gets tough the tough take a powder. In the world according to Tom, that reflects the current situation:
It is time for a radically new approach. And I mean radical. I mean something no U.S. administration has ever dared to do: Take down our “Peace-Processing-Is-Us” sign and just go home.
This approach isn’t radical and isn’t new. It’s essentially the approach of Bush pere and Bush fils (though Bush Jr. insisted he was doing “something” when he wasn’t).
Right now we want it more than the parties. They all have other priorities today. And by constantly injecting ourselves we’ve become their Novocain. We relieve all the political pain from the Arab and Israeli decision-makers by creating the impression in the minds of their publics that something serious is happening.
…This enables the respective leaders to continue with their real priorities — which are all about holding power or pursuing ideological obsessions — while pretending to advance peace, without paying any political price.
According to this perspective, the parties are being recalcitrant schoolboys and if we just withdraw that parental love they’ll somehow realize what they’ve been missing and come to their senses. It’s an extraordinary attitude to take given the history of this conflict. By which, whenever there has been a vacuum created by just the sort of withdrawal Friedman proposes, it gets filled with more blood and mayhem.
You can see Tom’s blinders in the last paragraph in the above passage, by which he seems to try to assign blame for this impasse to both parties. The Palestinians are just as much at fault as the Israelis because the former are just so damned stubborn about petty things like settlement freezes and such.
The N.Y. Times columnist won’t admit this to himself or his readers but this impasse is entirely the fault of the Israelis. Barack Obama led the Palestinians and the world to believe a settlement freeze was his highest priority. Then he caved. Now Tom is PO’ed that Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to quit because Obama folded on him.
Needless to say, Tom’s current admission of impotence contradicts a column he wrote only a month ago or so in which he boasted of “Fayyadism” as the wave of the future, predicting that this new malleable Palestinian vision would provide Israel with a partner with whom it could “do business.” Why the columnist soured so quickly on this vision is anybody’s guess.
The sheer condescension of this passage is maddening:
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…
Today, the Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians are clearly not feeling enough pain to do anything hard for peace with each other…
The facts of the matter are these: Israel feels no pain and there is no way to make Israel feel pain with America out of the picture. Israel can continue with this charade indefinitely. So Friedman’s plan to abscond from the playing field will essentially cede it to Israel and leave it in control of all the levers of power. The claim that Palestinians aren’t feeling enough pain to play ball is odious and morally repugnant. Tell it to the 1.5 million Gazans who are under Israeli siege. It’s easy for Friedman to sit in his $9-million Bethesda home, eating off the fatted calf, with his kids probably ensconced in high-priced private schools and tell the Gazans that they need to feel more pain before they’ll be ready to make peace. I find the notion sickening.
Here Tom reveals how little he understands anything of contemporary Palestinian thinking:
…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.
By referencing the “Jewish state” meme Friedman is regurgitating a major Bibism, that Israel cannot negotiate with the Palestinians till they accept Israel as a Jewish state. It’s a foolish notion and shows how completely divorced the N.Y. Times mandarin is from political reality. Palestinians aren’t going to accept Israel as a Jewish state because it’s none of their business what that state is. Palestinians only have to recognize Israel as A state. Anything more is merely a wrench thrown into the works by the Likudist rejectionists who want to string the Occupation out indefinitely.
Friedman’s characterization of Hamas is breathtakingly off the mark. Not a single one of Hamas’ senior leaders is talking about an Islamic Republic in Palestine. I’m sure Israeli intelligence is talking about such a concept and this tells you where Tom gets some of his wackier ideas.
Stephen Walt notes that Joe Klein has written a post at Time arguing that it’s time for Obama to take the gloves off and forget about half-measures like settlement freezes. If Bibi continues to refuse, the president should institute a temporary freeze on all economic and military aid to Israel. I’d venture to say that just announcing that he was considering doing so should get Bibi’s attention. I feel more positively toward Klein’s suggestions than Walt. But it is true that this would set up a potential showdown between the executive and legislative branches, with the latter being pretty much in the pocket of the Israel lobby.
The most important idea we should take from all this is that leaving the playing field is NOT an option. Liberals may despair of having an impact because they don’t have the courage of their convictions. They’re the sunshine patriots who walk away when their best intentions are mocked by one party or another. The truth is that when Israel smacks your convictions in the face is precisely when you should redouble your efforts to show it that you mean business.
Tough love is the only answer. Intervention if necessary (of course in league with our EU and other allies). Declaring a Palestinian state within ’67 boundaries is one option. Threatening to cut off U.S. aid is another. Israel as a country believes in put up or shut up. If you want Israel to do something but aren’t willing to follow it through to the end, Israelis will quickly get the idea that you’re all talk, no action. That’s why what is now required is an escalation.
Watch the signs over the next month or two. If there is an escalation you’ll know Obama hasn’t given up. If there isn’t, batten down the hatches and get ready for all hell to break loose somewhere in Israel’s vicinity…either Gaza or Lebanon or Syria. Once the U.S. leaves the scene the vacuum will surely be filled by more blood, more violence, more hate. It’s the way of the Middle East.
And Tom Friedman can sit back in that easy chair in his study probably with a lovely view of the 9th hole at the Bethesda Country Club and smugly say: “I told you so.” Tom prefers to fiddle while the Middle East burns.