Doubting Thomas

Dedicated to pointing out the inconstitencies and biases that mar the work of Thomas Friedman.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Passion for PLO

In a typically arrogant column, "Passion for Peace," Thomas Friedman tells us what needs to be done to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Don't get me wrong — ultimately it is up to Israelis, Palestinians and Iraqis to liberate themselves. They have to want it. But at this stage, we have to use our power to help create the context for them to do it. And that is hard. It means taking hits politically and militarily, which is why if we are to do it right we really have to want it bad.
That's right. America must bring pressure to bear on all the parties involved in order to achieve peace. So how did Thomas feel when Arafat rejected Barak's generous offer three years ago? In an article titled "Yasir Arafat's Moment" (July 28, 2000), Friedman says that Arafat should have said that the offer wasn't enough and come back with a counteroffer! (Take my word for it; I save these things, but I didn't save the URL)

I have two problems with that. 1) If Friedman really believed that, he had his head in the sand for the six and a half years that Arafat ruled the PA prior to Camp David. For those six and a half years Arafat ran a government based on perpetuating grievance, not reaching accomodation. 2) Friedman demonstrated, conclusively, his bias against Israel. For if he feels that Israel is, in any way, holding up "peace" he favors American pressure on Israel (which he covers by calling for pressure on both sides, like he does today) but in late July 2000, this is how he felt about Arafat -
Why didn't Mr. Arafat seize on that with a serious counteroffer? One view in the U.S. camp is that the Palestinians still don't know who they want to be when they grow up. They still prefer to whine and play the victim. Another view says, hold on, Mr. Arafat knows he has to engage, but he needed to show his people he could say no before he says yes.
My own view is a mix. I believe Mr. Arafat presides over a decentralized, disenfranchised and dysfunctional national movement that, against all odds, has managed to survive Arab regimes that wanted to control it and Israeli governments that wanted to destroy it. He survived all these years by bobbing, weaving, straddling and never making an irrevocable decision. But now he is at the moment of truth. He must do something he has never done before: clearly define not just what the Palestinians want, but what they also believe the Jews are entitled to, and then split the difference and take responsibility.
To do that he is going to have to rise above his personal history and circumstances, and also enlist the backing of Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- which represent the Muslim world, but which ran away when Mr. Clinton asked them to help Mr. Arafat fashion and sell a compromise on Jerusalem. It's not too late. Listen to Israel. Listen to the silence. It's the Israeli silent majority already redrawing maps in their heads. That is Mr. Barak's great achievement. But it has limits, and it will be utterly wasted if Mr. Arafat and the Arabs can't muster the courage to get their own people to do the same.
This is excuse making at its most cynical. He asked Arafat(!) to chase after Egypt and Saudi Arabia for help. He didn't tell Clinton to press the Arab world to press Arafat to accept a deal. Even as he talks about a silent Israeli majority that favors compromise he implies that on the other side there is no such moderation. But he doesn't acknowledge that asymmetry. Nope, he simply pretends that the Arab world is as interested in compromise, as is Israel.

Friday, May 09, 2003
Does he realize what he's saying?

I don't think that Oslophile, Thomas Friedman, understood what he wrote in his most recent column:

It isn't often you get to see a live political science experiment, but that is what we're about to witness in Iraq as the first interim Iraqi government is formed from the different factional leaders in the country. What American advisers and this Iraqi interim government will attempt to answer is the most fundamental question facing the Arab world and many developing countries: How do you get from here to there? How do you go from a brutal authoritarian regime to a decent, accountable, democratizing society, without ending up with an Iranian-style theocracy or chaos?

Interestingly enough, what the smartest experts in the democracy field all seem to agree on is that this interim Iraqi authority should not focus on holding national elections — the hardware of democracy. Elections should come last. Instead, it must start with the software — building, brick by brick, the institutions of a free society — so that when people do get to vote, when national power is up for grabs, they have a range of choices and can be assured that there will be a rotation of power.
Well one thing you don't do is give the tyrant control of all apparatuses of government and no penalties for misbehavior. That's what happened with Oslo and it didn't seem to bother Mr. Friedman. Oslo failed because the "software" was ignored. The Palestinians used every government body necessary to deliver their message of hatred towards Israel and Jews. Instead of building commerce they built weapons factories and organizations to smuggle them. Friedman and others in similar positions had a responsibility to point this out. They didn't.
Cross posted to IsraPundit and Doubting Thomas.


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