Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 7/4/2012: Tom Friedman Recycles A Column

From DG:
Taking out the recycling

I have just completed a year of reviewing editorials and op-eds in the New York Times. Leave it to Thomas Friedman to write one that has to qualify as one of the worst I have seen in that time.

First of all, What does Morsi mean for Israel? is pretty much a rewrite of his nasty Postcard from Cairo, Part 2.
At least three tropes are present in both op-eds:
  1. Israel should be more supportive of the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt.
  2. This is so because the Jewish people who once were oppressed by Pharoh, should be opposed to modern day Pharohs.
  3. Israel's peace with Egypt now needs to be with 80 million not just a single dictator.
After his introductory paragraph Friedman writes:
    First, let’s dispense with some nonsense. There is a mantra you hear from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Israel and various right-wing analysts: “We told you so.” It’s the idea that somehow President Obama could have intervened to “save” President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and he was just too naïve to do so, and the inevitable result is that the Muslim Brotherhood has taken power. Sorry, naïveté is thinking that because it was so convenient for Israel to have peace with one dictator, Mubarak, rather than 80 million Egyptians, that this dictator — or some other general — would and could stay at the helm in Egypt forever. Talk about naïve. 
    What's naive? To suggest that the successor to Mubarak would likely be worse for Israel. Now hindsight is easy, but let's go to one of those "right wing analysts," Barry Rubin, who, in February, 2011, wrote, Egypt's Revolution and Israeli Interests: A Strategic Assessment:
    The single most salient issues is whether or not the next government will maintain the peace treaty with Israel. Not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also the two best-known oppositionists (Ayman Nour and Muhammad ElBaradei) have spoken of the need to revise the treaty, hold a referendum, or dispense with it altogether. Even if they never do it, Israel must assume that this kind of thing is in the realm of the possible. 
    What is most likely is that the treaty will not be formally torn up—due to Egyptian fear of losing U.S. aid or of Israeli retaliation—but rather emptied of content. If Egypt violates the treaty without admitting it, Israel may have trouble convincing the United States to act. And how does Israel respond without triggering a confrontation? 
    There are many steps the Egyptian government could take: letting weapons flow and terrorists walk across the Egypt-Gaza border; not trying too hard to stop terrorists from crossing the Egypt-Israel border; not providing proper protection to Israeli citizens travelling in Egypt or to the Israeli embassy; recalling Egyptian diplomats from Israel; stepping up hostile and official anti-Israel incitement; and so on. 
    What have we seen in the past 17 months? The Sinai has become a "new front" in the war against Israel. The Israeli embassy in Cairo was attacked. Just before the election, the Muslim Brotherhood was preaching jihad against Israel. Rubin accurately predicted three significant changes that have taken place in post-Mubarak Egypt.

    Has Friedman predicted anything about the revolution correctly? He has, I believe, gone from declaring that the Muslim Brotherhood was an afterthought to the revolution, to declaring that they were successful post-revolution because they de-emphasized religion to declaring that Israel now has no choice but to deal with them.

    Who then is naive? (The better rhetorical question might be "who is less informed?")
    I truly appreciate the anxiety Israelis feel at seeing their neighborhood imploding. But it is also striking that a people for whom the Exodus story of liberation is so central — and who for so long argued that peace will happen only when the Arabs become democratic — failed to believe that the liberation narrative might one day resonate with the people of Egypt and now proclaim that the problem with the Arabs is that they are becoming democratic. This has roots.
    Friedman appreciates nothing about Israel's situation. His "appreciation" is simply empty words. Egypt is not becoming a democracy but a theocracy. If that's truly the choice of most Arabs, that is bad news for Israel and. more generally, for the West.
    “In their relations with power, Jews in exile have always preferred vertical alliances to horizontal ones,” notes Leon Wieseltier, the Jewish scholar and literary editor of The New Republic. 
    “They always preferred to have a relationship with the king or the bishop so as not to have to engage with the general population, of which they were deeply distrustful — and they often had reason to be distrustful. Israel, as a sovereign state, reproduced the old Jewish tradition of the vertical alliance, only this time with the Arab states. They thought that if they had a relationship with Mubarak or the king of Jordan, they had all they needed. But the model of the vertical alliance only makes sense with authoritarian political systems. As soon as authoritarianism breaks down, and a process of democratization begins, the vertical model is over and you enter a period of horizontality in which the opinions of the people — in this instance, ordinary Arabs — will matter.” As a result, Israel will have to make the man on the street “not only fear it, but also understand it. This will not be easy, but it may not be impossible. Anyway, nostalgia for dictators is not a thoughtful policy.”
    While I know that Wieseltier has written a well received book about the history of the Kaddish prayer, I'm unaware that he is any sort of Jewish scholar.Wieseltier provides Friedman with one of those pithy aphorisms that sound good but mean little or nothing.

    In Europe, if Jews trusted a prince, it was out of necessity. The princes were the ones who could protect them against the mobs.

    In the case of Egypt, making a peace deal with a leader is ... the way governments do business. Nothing especially Jewish about that. In fact Israelis did try to make the peace with more than just the leaders, but professional organizations, like the writers union, fought any sort of grass roots normalization with Israel. After years of official and non-official demonization against Israel, the "man on the street" has no use for Israel. If grass roots normalization didn't occur under Mubarak, it certainly won't happen under Morsi.
    I don’t know whether the current Palestinian leadership can be a partner for a secure, two-state peace with Israel, but I do know this: Israel needs to be more creative in testing whether that is possible. Because the alternative is a one-state solution that will be the death of Israel as a Jewish democracy and deadly for peace with a democratic Egypt.  
    Here we come down to the internal contradiction of Friedman's column. Palestinian leadership consists of Fatah and Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization devoted in word and deed to Israel's destruction. Fatah is led by the increasingly authoritarian Mahmoud Abbas, who sits on a corruptly financed fortune and is stifling dissent. In other words, Israel's better option is to trust the increasingly Mubarak-like Abbas. Friedman is scolding Israel to trust the exact type of ruler he's spent the rest of the article telling Israel to eschew!

    And what crisis should force Israel to trust Abbas for peace? A non-existent demographic crisis to Israel's democracy on one side and Egypt's chimerical democracy on the other!
    And what are Morsi’s obligations? Have no illusions: the Muslim Brotherhood at its core holds deeply illiberal, anti-pluralistic, anti-feminist views. It aspires to lock itself into power and exploit a revolution it did not initiate. I just don’t think it is going to be so easy. Iran is political Islam in power with oil — to buy off all the pressures and contradictions. Saudi Arabia is political Islam in power with oil. Egypt will be political Islam in power without oil. Egypt can’t survive without tourism, foreign investment and aid to create the jobs, schools and opportunities to satisfy the Egyptian youths who launched this revolution and many others who passively supported it. Also, the U.S. cannot, will not and should not give the Muslim Brotherhood the same deal it gave Mubarak — just arrest and torture the jihadists we want and you can have a cold peace with Israel and no constitutionalism at home.  
    In characterizing the Muslim Brotherhood, Friedman leaves out one important quality: its antisemitism. The gist of this paragraph is that political necessity will force Morsi to moderate his stance. Given the evidence so far, this is wishful thinking. You could call it naivete.

    He states this explicitly in his final paragraph.
    So Morsi is going to be under enormous pressure to follow the path of Turkey, not the Taliban.  
    Will he? I have no idea. He should understand, though, that he holds a powerful card — one Israelis would greatly value: real peace with a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt, which could mean peace with the Muslim world and a true end to the conflict. Of course, that’s the longest of long shots. Would Morsi ever dangle that under certain terms? Again, I don’t know. I just know this: The Mubarak era is over — and with the conservative Muslim Brotherhood dominating Egypt and with conservative religious-nationalists dominating Israeli politics, both will either change their behaviors to make Camp David legitimate for both peoples or it will gradually become unsustainable.  
    So here's his conclusion: the Muslim Brotherhood and the Likud are both "conservative religious-nationalist" parties, and are thus mirror images of each other. Both must moderate if there is to be peace in the Middle East.

    This is nonsense. With his broad coalition, Netanyahu's government represents mainstream Israeli thinking, which is extremely liberal in contrast to mainstream Egyptian political thinking.

    Friedman ignores the fact that it is Abbas who has refused to negotiate in good faith with Israel for the past three and a half years, counting on pressure from the Obama administration and cover from friendly partisans like Friedman to protect his reputation as a moderate.

    As the Muslim Brotherhood consolidates its position in Egypt's government, threats to Israel have increased. Friedman can pretend that the political environment hasn't changed and that Israel is primarily responsible for the lack of peace in the Middle East. That's why he can write virtually the same column he wrote 17 months ago.

    At least Friedman lives up to his environmentally responsible image. He has real penchant for recycling garbage.
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