Commentary Magazine


Klein of Arabia

Do you like fairy tales? Here’s one written by an American, Joe Klein, who went to the Middle East and got lost in a sandstorm. He writes that

Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.

How does he know this? Did he poll the Arabs at Doha? This claim — that Gaza is the most important thing to the Arabs, and whatever is most important for the Arabs is what should be most important for the U.S. — is a premise of his piece. It’s not an unimportant question. But during Hillary Clinton’s visit, the Saudis spoke bluntly in public about Iran and said nothing about Gaza. More important, much of public opinion in authoritarian Arab countries is a product of regime manipulation and propaganda. Klein is in essence arguing that the United States should validate anti-Israel propaganda by allowing Arab public opinion to dictate U.S. interests. He continues about Gaza, asserting that

the best way to resolve Gaza is for the U.S. to quietly convince Hamas that if it gives up Shalit — a huge issue for the Israelis — the U.S. would work to persuade Israel to lift the siege.

But Hamas has never been willing to give up Shalit merely in exchange for lifting the siege. Hamas has always required a prisoner swap of around a thousand terrorists. How could the United States’s “quiet convincing” cause Hamas to abandon its central, most important demand? Klein seems to think that strategy is based on passionate arguments, not the cold calculation of interests.

Three of the four interested parties — the Israelis, the West Bank Palestinians and Egypt — are more than happy to let Hamas suffer in perpetuity. That may make political sense in the short term, but it is creating an intractable long-term problem: the rise of a new generation that’s even more radical than Hamas and even more angry at Israel.

I hate to keep asking the same question, but how does he know this? The polling data show that Hamas has actually lost popularity in Gaza. One could just as easily write about “the rise of a new generation that’s even more disgusted with Hamas and even more disposed to a two-state solution.” Klein has no idea which is true, or if they’re both false, so he just writes whatever makes his argument look good.

He wraps it up with a final flourish of inanity:

The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress.

For this statement to make any sense, it would have to be true that the United States, Israel, Syria, and Hamas all have the same definition of progress. Joe Klein, like many desperate souls lost in the desert, is seeing mirages.