New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”
While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.
Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.
As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.
But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.
If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.
Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.