The truth bites NYT columnist Thomas Friedman in the face, but he ignores it.
We hear from critics of Israel that Israel needs a two-state solution to be legitimate.
Without a Palestinian state, the argument goes, Israel will rule over millions of resentful Palestinians to whom it will have to deny their basic rights in order to maintain its Jewish nature. Or if Israel enfranchises the Palestinians, they could overwhelm the Jews with their votes and then Israel would cease to be a Jewish state. So the reasoning goes, without a separate Palestinian state, Israel will either cease being Jewish or democratic.
But there was already a separation achieved in 1993, with the signing of the Oslo Accords.
By the end of 1995 Israel had withdrawn from the major population areas in the West Bank, leaving over 90% of Palestinians under the political control of the Palestinian Authority. In 2005, Israel “disengaged” from Gaza ending the occupation of that territory.
On the political front, Yasser Arafat rejected a two state solution from then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. In 2008 Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas rejected a peace deal from then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Two years ago, Abbas rejected a framework agreement that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reluctantly agreed to.
So the problem isn’t the occupation but what the Palestinians have done or haven’t done with the opportunity.
By focusing strictly on Israel, the peace processors have absolved the Palestinians of any responsibility for their own plight. Worse, by making Israel responsible, they give the Palestinians the ability to determine Israel’s legitimacy.
Really it’s a perfect arrangement for the Palestinians they have veto power over the peace process and the escape all culpability for the absence of a peace agreement.
Aside from this procedural flaw in placing the sole or major burden of making peace with Israel, there’s also a huge practical flaw. With whom should Israel, can Israel make peace?
This problem was underscored by Thomas Friedman’s column last week. Talking about the growing mess in the Middle East, Friedman starts off by blasting Netanyahu for being the “the founding father of the one-state solution.” But Friedman did not stop there.
And Hamas is the mother. Hamas devoted all its resources to digging tunnels to attack Israelis from Gaza rather than turning Gaza into Singapore, making a laughingstock of Israeli peace advocates. And Hamas launched a rocket close enough to Tel Aviv’s airport that the U.S. banned all American flights for a day, signaling to every Israeli, dove or hawk, what could happen if they ceded the West Bank.
But Hamas was not alone. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, sacked the only effective Palestinian prime minister ever, Salam Fayyad, who was dedicated to fighting corruption and proving that Palestinians deserved a state by focusing on building institutions, not U.N. resolutions.
Friedman makes two important observations in these paragraphs. It’s like reality bit him in the face but his instinct to blame Bibi first and mainly didn’t allow him to comprehend the implications of what he wrote.
First of all he notes that Hamas poses an existential threat to Israel. If Hamas had launched its wars against Israel from the West Bank instead of Gaza the carnage would have been many times worse (for both sides.)
He also noted that even the moderate (or less extreme) Abbas has done nothing to build the institutions of statehood. Compounding this problem is that the Palestinian Authority doesn’t control Gaza, meaning that the PA isn’t even fully sovereign over the areas it controls.
Politically no two-state solution is possible right now. Security-wise no such solution exists right now either. That is why even Isaac Herzog, head of Israel’s center-left opposition, said in January that “I don’t see a possibility at the moment of implementing the two-state solution.”
Given the lack of a partner to make peace, it is not Israel’s fault that there is no peace. Nor should Israel’s legitimacy be dependent on Palestinian goodwill or competence.
Though it’s off the major topic of this post, there is another important point to make about Friedman’s column.
There is a bigger problem with the column, which has to be one of the worst I’ve ever read. It’s a bigger problem than his treatment of Israel.
He wrote, “That conversation came back to me as I listened to the Democratic and Republican debates when they briefly veered into foreign policy, with candidates spouting the usual platitudes about standing with our Israeli and Sunni Arab allies. Here’s a news flash: You can retire those platitudes. Whoever becomes the next president will have to deal with a totally different Middle East.”
Yes. And there’s a reason why the Middle East looks so much different from the way it looked eight years ago. But for some reason the name Obama appeared only once in the whole column.
If Friedman is constitutionally incapable of giving Netanyahu or Israel much credit, he is similarly incapable of blaming Obama for his disastrous stewardship of foreign policy. But an article in Sunday’s Washington Post makes the case (at least implicitly) of how bad that leadership has been.
Syria’s civil war long ago mutated into a proxy conflict, with competing world powers backing the rival Syrian factions almost since the earliest days of the armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
But perhaps never before have the dangers — or the complications — of what amounts to a mini world war been so apparent as in the battle underway for control of Aleppo.
Power politics abhors a vacuum and with the American retreat from the Middle East, Russia and Iran have stepped in. The death and destruction and, yes, the mini world war are the results of Obama’s abdication.
[Photo: Thomas Friedman]