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Friedman’s Clueless Middle East Twofer

After so many years of being wrong about the Palestinians being ready to make peace with Israel, it is difficult to take New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s Middle East advice columns seriously. But his latest effort in this genre contains some whoppers that got our attention even if they only provide more proof  the veteran writer is still hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Today’s “twofer” of Friedman gems starts out with praise for imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti. Friedman gives a testimonial to Barghouti as an “authentic leader” and describes his call from prison for a new campaign of “non-violent” protest against Israel as just the ticket to bring peace. But what Friedman doesn’t understand is what makes Barghouti “authentic” to Palestinians is his role in the murder of Israeli civilians (for which he is currently serving five life sentences), not his notions about a switch to Gandhi-style activism.

Friedman advises Palestinians to take up Barghouti’s plea for “non-violence” (which according to Friedman includes the throwing of lethal rocks at Israelis as well as a campaign of economic warfare against the Jewish state) but to accompany it with specific maps showing what peace terms they will accept from Israel. On the surface that makes sense, because as Friedman says, Israel would then be faced with a tangible peace proposal that it would likely accept. Yet Friedman ignores the reason why the Palestinians have never made such a practical proposal and are unlikely to do so now.

The problem from the Palestinian point of view with Friedman’s advice to throw rocks wrapped in maps showing possible territorial swaps is that to do so means recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state. And that is something no Palestinian leader has ever had the courage to do no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn or how many settlements would be uprooted.

Let’s remember that Barghouti’s mass murder spree took place in the immediate aftermath of an Israeli peace offer that was not much different from the scheme Friedman now thinks the Palestinians will accept. PA leader Yasir Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s offers of a state in 2000 and 2001 and answered it with a terror war that cost more than 1,000 Israelis their lives courtesy of killers like his Fatah cohort Barghouti. Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas walked away from another such offer in 2008. With the Islamists of Hamas now joining Abbas in a new coalition, the odds that the PA will be able to accept a similar offer are zero.

Yet Friedman still thinks the Palestinians can make Israelis “feel morally insecure” about holding onto territory by another bout of rock throwing. But the reason why Israelis don’t “feel morally insecure” is because, unlike Friedman, they aren’t prepare to ignore the results of two decades of Middle East peace processing during which they have traded land and received terror instead of the peace pundits like the columnist promised. He’s right that Prime Minister Netanyahu believes the Palestinians won’t make peace because he “thinks it’s not in their culture.” The problem for Friedman is they have already proven many times that it isn’t.

What makes this discussion so pointless is that the Palestinians don’t need a change in tactics. They don’t have to throw rocks or promote boycotts even if those activities are more attractive to their foreign supporters than suicide bombings. All they have to do is negotiate. Netanyahu has already said he’d accept a two-state solution and, as Friedman understands, the vast majority of Israelis would support him if he were presented with a deal that ended the conflict. Just as in 1977 when Egypt’s Sadat went to Jerusalem, the Israelis are ready to deal. The problem is not whether the Palestinians realize how best to make Israelis “morally insecure” — a point that is as meaningless today as it was 35 years ago — but that, unlike Sadat, they aren’t actually willing to live in peace alongside the Jewish state.

The other whopper in Friedman’s column is his second suggestion: a proposal that Israel assist in the creation of a viable secular Palestinian state in the West Bank that would promote a free-market economy that would be a model to the Middle East. He thinks this is essential, because if violence erupts, the new Islamist leadership in Egypt will exacerbate it.

For years, Friedman has been promoting Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and “Fayyadism” as the coming wave of Palestinian politics. But Fayyad’s name isn’t mentioned once in Friedman’s column. That’s because the moderate, who is a favorite of both the U.S. and Israel, has no constituency among his own people and is being chucked out of office by Abbas to appease his new Hamas partners. Israel would like nothing better than a free market-trading partner in the West Bank led by a man such as Fayyad as opposed to another Islamist wasteland such as currently exists in Gaza. The problem is the Palestinians prefer Hamas to Fayyad or the advice of the clueless Friedman.



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