Doubting Thomas

Dedicated to pointing out the inconstitencies and biases that mar the work of Thomas Friedman.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Tom's on a Roll
After a long drought, Mr. Friedman has given me reason to comment on 3 consecutive columns. After the insensitivity of Thursday's column, Friedman has descended even further in today's "One Wall, One Man, One Vote." Here's the first paragraph:
If there is one iron law that has shaped the history of Arab-Israeli relations, it's the law of unintended consequences. For instance, Israel is still wrestling with all the unintended consequences of its victory in 1967. Today, Israel is building a fence and walls around the West Bank to deter suicide bombers. But, having looked at this wall extensively from both sides, I am ready to make a prediction: It will be the mother of all unintended consequences.
The unintended consequence to which Friedman refers is the likelihood that the Arabs will demand a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan in which they are equal citizens with Jews.

There are several things to say about Friedman's prediction. First of all, I would say that Oslo had unintended consequences. It was supposed to make peace but had the effect of making peace less likely and creating greater hatred and grievance than there was before.

Of course there were those of us who said that trusting Arafat and the PLO to make peace was folly and that once he was trusted, the failure to hold Arafat and his thugs to any standards is why the situation deteriorated. In other words, the unintended consequences may be less a case of unforeseen circumstances, than of willful blindness. Is there anyone who studied Arafat's records over the years and really thought that he changed? Or did people simply say that Israel must do something and this is the least bad option? Once they came to that conclusion, they kept on averting their eyes from Arafat's corruption and violence and continued down their path of advocating "peace" above all else. And those of us who correctly predicted Arafat's perfidy were simply "right wingers" who couldn't appreciate the fruits of peace.

Friedman's big problem with the fence is:
Why is this happening? First, because the fence is not being built on the 1967 border. It is being built on Palestinian land across the border, inside the West Bank. And since the fence is really a strip — up to 100 yards wide — of razor wire, trenches, sensors and cameras, more slices of Palestinian land are being confiscated to build it and farmers are being separated from their fields.

"If the Israelis want to build the wall on the 1967 Green Line — no problem, they could build it 100 meters high," said Nidal Jaloud, spokesman for the West Bank Palestinian border town of Qalqilya, where Israel put a 24-foot-high wall after five suicide bombers came out of there. "But it is not being built on the Green Line — it is built on our lands."
For someone who worshipped at the altar of Oslo this is incredible. For as Yehoshuah Porath points out:
There are those who say that Israel is no less, and perhaps even more, responsible for the failure of the Oslo Accords than the Palestinians because it did not halt the establishment and building up of the settlements. It must therefore be reiterated that nowhere in the Oslo agreements is there anything that expressly prohibits the establishment of settlements or requires that they be dismantled in part or in whole.

Oslo did not require that Israel withdraw from Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The PA insists that Israel was obligated to do that. And supporters of Oslo, like Friedman, insist that Oslo requires Israel to pull back to its 1967 borders and point to "settlements" as the leading cause of mistrust between Israel and the PA. But that wasn't written into the Oslo Accords and that's what Porath is saying.

To support for his position that there's a view among Palestinians that wants a bi-national state in all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, Friedman quotes from a poll taken by Khalil Shikaki:
As Palestinians find themselves isolated in pockets next to Jewish settlers — who have the rule of law, the right to vote, welfare, jobs, etc. — and as hope for a contiguous Palestinian state fades, it's inevitable that many of them will throw in the towel and ask for the right to vote in Israel.

Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster, has already found 25 to 30 percent of Palestinians now supporting this idea — a stunning figure, considering it's never been proposed by any Palestinian or Israeli party.
The problem is that Shikaki's polling may skew things a little as Max Abrahms notes about a Shikaki poll last month. In the poll, many media types saw the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict because Shikaki supposedly discovered that most Palestinians would be willing to accept compensation instead of a "right of return."
Shikaki interpreted this data to mean that Palestinians are uninterested in overrunning Israel demographically with unregulated emigration.

Yet Shikaki fails to consider that Palestinians generally do not want to become "Israeli citizens" or move to Israel if only a "small number" of Palestinians will be living there. For this reason, the shallow support for "becoming an Israeli citizen" and "returning" to Israel in "small numbers" may indicate nothing more than a broad-based desire to relocate to Israel under more propitious circumstances. Indeed, Shikaki downplays a more noteworthy finding: According to his own data, 95 percent of Palestinian respondents agree with the statement that the "right of return" is a "sacred right that can never be given up." And "When asked how the respondents feel about the proposal," half said that they are presently opposed to compromising with Israel on the refugee problem.
So anyway, Friedman ought to treat Shikaki's polls with a little skepticism. Still, I don't think that Shikaki's poll was the impetus for Friedman to bring up the idea of a binational state. It was rather, Ari Shavit's recent article in Ha'aretz saying that it wasn't possible to divide the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River anymore that probably inspired Friedman. But like so many of the "five minutes to midnight" scenarios of the past twenty years of more, he's just evading the main issue and that's the Arab refusal to accept Israel.

Crossposted on IsraPundit and Doubting Thomas.

Thursday, September 11, 2003
Half a great column
Thomas Friedman wrote half a great column today. He called it "Breaking Death's Grip." And the great part of the column included this:
Israelis' ability to adapt to, and defy, these bombings demonstrates the amazing strength of this society. When bus bombings first started, for a week after an explosion few people would ride the buses. Now they're right back on them after an hour.
Unfortunately - you knew this was coming - there was another half to the column that included this:
But message to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: Palestinians are not leaving either, and your iron fist will not make them accept Israeli settlements or a truncated Palestinian state. If you think Oslo was a failure, look at your alternative. In three years, some 850 Israelis have been killed under your strategy. Yours and Hamas's are two failed strategies that add up to a human meat grinder. You want Israelis to believe they have no other choice, but they do. It is to use Israel's amazing inner strength to take a different set of Israeli actions, like really uprooting settlements, to stimulate a different set of Palestinian reactions, like controlling suicide bombers.
First of all, Sharon's alternative was not something chosen; he didn't even arrive on the scene until February 2002 as Prime Minister and wasn't able to form a government of his own choosing until nearly a year later. Nor is it clear that Sharon's approach is any different from what any other Israeli Prime Minister would have done. Certainly when Arafat and the PA started their war, then-PM Ehud Barak had the army hit back.

Though the terror has been worse during the past three years, has it really been worse because of Sharon's approach? Or has it been the fruit of the failed peacemaking efforts? After all, there's been relatively little terrorism coming from Gaza, most of it has come from Judea and Samaria. This suggests that the area under the authority of the PA has incubated the growth of terror.

Friedman's argument weakens significantly in the final sentence, which argues that if only Israel would give more land to the PA, the PA would try to stop suicide bombers. This is a sick joke.

Before the latest war started the worst string of terror attacks to hit Israel was in February and March, 1996. That, it could be argued, was the height of the peace process. Israel had just handed over Jenin, Kalkilya, Bethlehem, Schechem (Nablus), Ramallah and Tulkarem to the PA a few months earlier; the PM was Shimon Peres, who wanted to make peace with the PA and the Hamas killers with the complicity of the PA carried out its deadly missions.

The terror is not a function of an addressable Arab grievance; it is a function of hate. And it is enabled by allowing that hate to simmer in territory that is not sufficiently controlled by Israel allowing an infrastructure of smuggling and manufacturing weapons to thrive. (If the Arab residents of Yesha cared about their own lives they'd use that resourcefulness to create industry and they'd build rather than destroy. But they've been weaned on a religious based hatred that allows no compromise.)

By validating the Arab claims against Israel, Mr. Friedman does all he can to contribute to the cause of terror. It is this perversity that hurts all of those fighting terror - whether in America or in Israel - and leads to more threats against the American homeland, not just Israel.
Crossposted on IsraPundit and Doubting Thomas.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003
A Wail of a bad term
OK, maybe I'm overstating it a bit, but the title of Thomas Friedman's most recent column, "The Wailing Wall" is really offensive. Maybe it's not so offensive as Hillel Halkin claims here. But the content of the column is.

This week the peace processors' dream date, Mahmoud Abbas resigned as Prime Minister. Big surprise. And Yasser Arafat brazenly appoints a successor to Abbas. The whole charade that somehow Arafat has been sidenlined has been laid bare. In other words, Arafat's obstruction is now obvious. What does Friedman write about being an impediment to peace? If Israel would build the separation fence too far to the east then:
Good fences make good neighbors, but only if your fence runs along a logical, fair, consensual boundary — not through the middle of your neighbor's backyard.
Never mind that Arafat has rejected boundaries that even Friedman considers "fair." The idea that the PA would not get everything it demands is the price to be paid for rejecting an offer that was more than fair. Why shouldn't Israel include, say, Ariel?
Friedman continues:
If this wall is used to unilaterally bite off chunks of the West Bank to absorb far-flung Israeli settlements, then "it will just become a new and longer Wailing Wall," said the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi. "But unlike the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, this wall will have people wailing on both sides. Jews will be mourning the collapse of their dream of a Jewish democratic state, and Palestinians will be mourning their own lost opportunity to translate all their sacrifices into a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel."
Why won't Israel be a Jewish democratic state? Because Friedman declares it so? Even if Israel "bite[s] off chunks" of Yehuda and Shomron, Israel can still have a majority within its section. There's no reason that the Palestinians have any right to veto Israel's fence "map."

For Friedman to suggest that Israel's democracy hinges upon where the fence goes is offensive. There will be no peace until Arafat is gone from the scene. That is a necessary but insufficient condition for peace. The other condition is a change in Palestinian society so that it accepts the rights of Jews to live and be sovereign in the Middle East. Any arrangement that takes place without those two conditions will be risky for Israel.

Israel has gone far to show that it is committed to peace. It has risked and lost a lot. Israel need not demonstrate that commitment any more. It followed Thomas Friedman's worldview for at least seven years and received death and destruction in return. It's time for Israel to dictate the terms of the peace rather than having the terms dictated. Clearly giving the Arabs everything they demand doesn't make peace or make Israel secure.

Another problem with Friedman's view is that he is essentially justifying Arab violence against Israel. He is excusing the expected grievance in advance. But the Arab grievance against Israel is more basic than disagreeing over how much land Israel should have, it's about whether Israel should have *any* land. It is clear that given the choice between supporting democratic Israel and the terrorist PA, Friedman supports the latter and couches it in terms of criticizing Israel "for it's own good."
Crossposted on IsraPundit and Doubting Thomas.


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