Monday, December 10, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 12/10/2012: Tracing Thomas Friedman's Errors and Omissions

From DG:

Bastard for terror

Before commenting on Thomas Friedman's latest column, here's some history. After Arafat spurned Prime Minister Barak's offer and Camp David and started the "Aqsa intifada," Friedman wrote a column, Arafat's War:
Palestinians were shocked by Mr. Clinton's assessment. For the first time in a long time, Mr. Arafat no longer had the moral high ground. He, and the Arab leaders, had grown so comfortable with Bibi Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel -- a man the world always blamed for any peace breakdown -- that they were stunned and unprepared for the seriousness of Mr. Barak's offer and the bluntness of Mr. Clinton's assessment. Other world leaders told Mr. Arafat the same thing: Barak deserves a serious counteroffer. Mr. Arafat had a dilemma: make some compromises, build on Mr. Barak's opening bid and try to get it closer to 100 percent -- and regain the moral high ground that way -- or provoke the Israelis into brutalizing Palestinians again, and regain the moral high ground that way. Mr. Arafat chose the latter. So instead of responding to Mr. Barak's peacemaking overture, he and his boys responded to Ariel Sharon's peace-destroying provocation. In short, the Palestinians could not deal with Barak, so they had to turn him into Sharon. And they did.
Note how Friedman frames this.
Arafat didn't start the intifada on his own, it was his response to the real bad guy, Ariel Sharon. Except as anyone who followed the news knew, the PAthreatened violence even before Ariel Sharon set foot on the Temple Mount. (As we know now senior PA officials admit that the violence was planned in advance of the visit.)
With the gleeful, savage mob murder of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, on top of a week of Israeli-Palestinian killings and now a suicide attack on a U.S. ship in Yemen, the whole region is coming unglued. What's scary is that no one knows what to do next. Moderates cannot continue to argue that if Israel went far enough, it would have a Palestinian partner. But the hard-liners, now saying, ''I told you so -- the iron fist is the only way to deal with the Palestinians,'' are peddling a fantasy as well. The iron fist is not a sustainable solution for a state of six million Jews living in a sea of one billion angry Muslims.
Strangely, the idea of what Friedman calls "hard-liners" carried the day. Israel carried out Operation Defensive Shield and built a separation barrier and defeated the "Aqsa intifada." Maybe it wasn't sustainable, but defeating the terrorists brought Israel peace.

Following Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Friedman wrote Arabs Fight, Israelis Surf:
Prime Minister Ehud Barak's courageous decision to unilaterally withdraw Israeli forces from Lebanon has, for the first time in 22 years, restored a clear-cut border between Lebanon and Israel, and that will only leave Israel with a tighter fist and a more unified public, ready to protect what is really important. Why? It all starts with borders. ''Barak discovered something extremely important in Lebanon,'' remarked the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi, ''that a border is a source of power. Because when you don't have a border, you have a constant problem justifying the use of power. Whenever Israel has found itself in conflicts without borders -- south Lebanon, the Palestinian intifada in the West Bank -- it has always lost, because it always found it difficult to win support, either at home or abroad, for the force that is required to win a war without borders. Israelis will only sanction such force and sacrifice for a war of clear-cut self-defense over a defined border.'' And Mr. Barak, by drawing such a clear-cut border with Lebanon, has enabled Israel to reassert its real strengths there: It can now use its powerful air force, unrestrained; it can hold the Lebanese and Syrian governments responsible, without ambiguity; it now has the backing of the world community for any self-defense along the Lebanon border.
Note in particular what Friedman wrote about the backing of the international community in the final sentence quoted here.

In April, 2006, following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Friedman wrote The Hamas Dilemma:
Let's see, Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians have a chance, not perfect, not ideal, but the best chance ever to build something decent of their own, without any Israeli occupation army breathing down their necks, and what are they doing? Mostly fighting each other and lobbing Qassam rockets into Israel, prompting increasingly iron-fisted Israeli retaliations.
So let's just starve them of money until they come to their senses, right? But what if that leads to massive unemployment in the West Bank? Sure, it's Hamas's fault, but Israel will suffer the consequences of having a desperate Palestinian population on its doorstep. Or what if starving Hamas drives it deeper into an alliance with Iran to pay its bills? Can that be in Israel's interest?
So, yes, in principle, Hamas doesn't deserve to be treated like a democratic government. But in practice, Hamas has something Israelis badly want: a cease-fire -- not recognition. Israel chose to destroy Yasir Arafat's government and got Hamas. What if it destroys Hamas? What will it get then? I don't know, but the answer is not simple. Designing the right policy to deal with a democratically elected terrorist group that deserves to be spurned but has something you want is not in the textbooks.
For month, Friedman had been writing about how the Gaza withdrawal would change the Middle East and would lead to the emergence of a new "Israeli center," and that the "weapon of democracy" would force Hamas to govern rather than wreak terror. Once Hamas won the legislative elections and resumed terror (two months after Friedman wrote "Hamas will be low-key and patient, trying to rule as long as possible without money from abroad, working on improving Palestinian governance.")

So what happened when Israeli actions led to the strengthening of Hamas? Friedman advocated keeping Hamas in power. Israel needed Hamas. Nor did Friedman lament that Palestinian society having put Hamas in power had somehow lost its legitimacy.

In 2010, Friedman wrote "War, Timeout, War, Time ..." which included this offensive formulation:
Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars -- and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza. 
What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call "Hama Rules" -- which are no rules at all. "Hama Rules" are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.
The brutality of the Israeli retaliations bought this timeout with Hezbollah and Hamas, and the civilian casualties and troubling TV images bought Israel a U.N. investigation into alleged war crimes.
Friedman, who had written that any Israeli retaliation against Hezbollah would be justified and would have the backing of the international community now claimed that Defensive Shield, Israel's war with Hezbollah in 2006 and Cast Lead were comparable to Hafez Assad's brutal repression of rebellion in 1982.

But Friedman concluded:
Bottom line: Israel needs to try to buy its next timeout with diplomacy, which means Netanyahu has to show some initiative. Because the risks to Israel's legitimacy of another war in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank -- in which Israel could be forced to kill even more civilians to squash rocket attacks launched from schoolyards by fighters who wear no uniforms -- will be staggering.
How did the three wars that Israel fought from 2000 to 2009 start? They started after Israel ceded territory. And yet here's Friedman saying even more territory needs to be ceded for Israel to make peace. By now, Netanyahu, pressed by President Obama had instituted a freeze on the building of settlements and that Abbas was still refusing to negotiate. Yet Friedman called on Netanyahu to "show some initiative."

With that background, here's Friedman's column from Sunday, The Full Israeli Experience:
Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister and war hero, started exactly where Bibi did: This is a dangerous neighborhood, and a Jewish state is not welcome here. But Rabin didn’t stop there. 
He also believed that Israel was very powerful and, therefore, should judiciously use its strength to try to avoid becoming a garrison state, fated to rule over several million Palestinians forever. Israel’s “bastards for peace” believe that it’s incumbent on every Israeli leader to test, test and test again — using every ounce of Israeli creativity — to see if Israel can find a Palestinian partner for a secure peace so that it is not forever fighting an inside war and an outside war. At best, the Palestinians might surprise them. At worst, Israel would have the moral high ground in a permanent struggle.
Israel has made significant significant material concessions over the past nineteen years. Instead of gaining the "moral high ground," it has been excoriated even by so called allies when it has sought to defend itself. Even now the Palestinian Authority won't budge on its demands and won't even rein in the anti-Israeli incitement that is endemic to its official media.

Friedman's hollow call for Israeli creativity ignores nearly two decades of Israeli concessions and, in effect, legitimizes terror.

In 2011, Elder of Ziyon posted one of PM Yitzchak Rabin's final speeches. Among other things Rabin insisted that whatever Palestinian entity emerged from negotiations would be less than a state. My point isn't that Rabin was against a Palestinian state, maybe, had he lived he would now be in favor of one. Now even the "hardliner" Netanyahu agrees to one. That's the point. Israel has come a long way since 1995. Articles like Friedman's ignore that.

Barry Rubin's latest traces the way the world  has given the Palestinians everything yet pretended that Israel has done little or nothing for peace. Also please see Meryl Yourish's The importance of being Israel.

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