Regular readers of Thomas Friedman were hardly surprised when he used the controversy over an ill-timed announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem to write about the need for America to save Israel from itself this past weekend. The piece, titled “Driving Drunk in Jerusalem,” was a long-discredited argument pulled from Friedman’s file and dusted off for the umpteenth time.
Nevertheless, with some sense did he note that “only a right-wing prime minister, like Netanyahu, can make a deal over the West Bank; Netanyahu’s actual policies on the ground there have helped Palestinians grow their economy.” That’s true. If the Palestinians ever actually wanted to make peace, Netanyahu would be the one who could sell such a deal to his country. But although it is also true that, as Friedman wrote, “Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are as genuine and serious about working toward a solution as any Israel can hope to find,” that doesn’t mean there is any hope that Abbas and Fayyad have the will or the power to accept such a solution.
Friedman further develops this theme in today’s column, which celebrates “Fayyadism” — the idea that creating a viable, independent Palestinian state can define the future of the Middle East. Many serious people both here and in Israel think Fayyad is sincere about his desire to replace the empty Palestinian political culture, based on hatred for Israel, with a productive nationalism devoted to improving the lives of ordinary Arabs in the West Bank. But the Times columnist believes Netanyahu’s coalition partners are preventing the prime minister from fully embracing Fayyad and making peace. So he agrees with President Obama’s attempt to break up Netanyahu’s government and replace it with a more left-leaning one.
Yet like almost all of Friedman’s bright ideas for bettering our not-so-flat world, there is a fatal flaw to this theory. Fayyad may be a genuine moderate, but he lacks a constituency. Palestinians still prefer the guys with the guns who will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where the borders are placed or how much of Jerusalem is rendered Jew-free. If “Fayyadism” had any sort of a following, then Fayyad’s boss might have accepted Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in just about all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. Both Fayyad and Abbas still know that if they sign any peace agreement, that will be the end of Fatah, no matter how many concessions Obama forces upon Israel. The threat of Hamas and its Iranian patron hang over Palestinian moderates, and no amount of fantasizing by Friedman or Obama — or unilateral pressure on Israel — can wish that away. The lack of Palestinian support for Fayyad’s vision of peace destroyed the previous government of Israel, which was more to the liking of Friedman and Obama. But as Obama’s American fans like to say, elections have consequences.
Rather than pressuring Israelis to adopt self-destructive policies they’ve already rejected at the ballot box, those trying to save Israel from itself should focus their attention on the gap between Fayyad and the rest of the Palestinians. Indeed, the effort to stop Jews from building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem — the focal point of the current dustup — encourages the Palestinian forces that are antithetical to “Fayyadism.” So long as Arabs think that outside parties can hammer Israel into submission and force the Jews to abandon their own land, it remains an upstream swim for those seeking to convince the Palestinians to abandon their belief in Israel’s destruction. Rather than aiding Fayyad, Obama’s attack on Jewish Jerusalem confirms once again that moderates have no chance to change a destructive and violent Palestinian political culture.