Thomas L. Friedman is on a tear again. In the past week, he’s published two columns in the NY Times in which he prescribes a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“This Is Not a Test“, Jan. 24; and “Abdullah II: The 5-State Solution“, Jan. 27).
To his credit, he mentions Iran as part of the problem. But his diagnosis is otherwise faulty and his proposed treatment will likely cause serious harm to his patient.
Friedman believes that “we’re at a hinge of history”, the possibility of a two-state solution is fading fast, and if it does not come about, the result will be disastrous for Israel and the Palestinians:
We’re getting perilously close to closing the window on a two-state solution, because the two chief window-closers — Hamas in Gaza and the fanatical Jewish settlers in the West Bank — have been in the driver’s seats. Hamas is busy making a two-state solution inconceivable, while the settlers have steadily worked to make it impossible.
If Hamas continues to obtain and use longer- and longer-range rockets, there is no way any Israeli government can or will tolerate independent Palestinian control of the West Bank, because a rocket from there can easily close the Tel Aviv airport and shut down Israel’s economy.
And if the Jewish settlers continue with their “natural growth” to devour the West Bank, it will also be effectively off the table. No Israeli government has mustered the will to take down even the “illegal,” unauthorized settlements, despite promises to the U.S. to do so, so it’s getting hard to see how the “legal” settlements will ever be removed. What is needed from Israel’s Feb. 10 elections is a centrist, national unity government that can resist the blackmail of the settlers, and the rightist parties that protect them, to still implement a two-state solution. — “This Is Not a Test“
Friedman really wants to show that ‘fanatical’ settlers are an equal part of the reason that a two-state solution is difficult, but that’s untrue. “Natural growth” refers to the construction of homes within the boundaries of existing settlements, and ones that are unlikely to be evacuated, mostly near the green line or close to Jerusalem. This process is not ‘devouring’ the West Bank, although he is correct that the failure to remove admittedly illegal outposts damages Israel’s credibility.
Most Jewish residents of the West Bank are not ‘fanatical’, and could be persuaded to move to Israel proper — if they believed that they would be treated fairly, unlike the displaced Gaza settlers, and if they believed that the result of their sacrifice would actually be an end to the conflict.
But although Palestinian propaganda continually blames the settlements, the real problem is that there is no reason to think that another partition would bring peace.
The difficulty posed by Hamas is huge. If Hamas had control of the West Bank, they would not need longer-range rockets to wreak havoc in the most populated parts of Israel. The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA), propped up by the US and EU and protected from Hamas by the IDF, is weak, corrupt and unpopular. Its American-provided arms did not help it to stand up against Hamas in Gaza and will not do so in the West Bank, especially since many of its personnel would prefer to switch than fight.
Even if a takeover were not assured, the militant stance of Hamas defines Palestinian ‘patriotism’. Today, Fatah is not prepared to end the conflict, continuing to insist on resettlement of millions of Arabs with refugee status in Israel and refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This intransigence is in part a result of its desire to appear no less militant than Hamas, as Friedman correctly notes, although there is reason to think that no Palestinian leadership could survive if it did not maintain these positions.
Compared to these issues, the settlements fade into insignificance.
So, what to do about Hamas? This is where Friedman displays a surprising lack of understanding of the nature of Hamas:
The Palestinians are so fragmented politically and geographically that half of U.S. diplomacy is going to be about how to make peace between Palestinians, and build their institutions, so there is a coherent, legitimate decision-making body there — before we can make peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Second, Hamas now has a veto over any Palestinian peace deal. It’s true that Hamas just provoked a reckless war that has devastated the people of Gaza. But Hamas is not going away. It is well armed and, despite its suicidal behavior of late, deeply rooted.
The Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will not make any compromise deal with Israel as long as it fears that Hamas, from outside the tent, would denounce it as traitorous. Therefore, Job 2 for the U.S., Israel and the Arab states is to find a way to bring Hamas into a Palestinian national unity government. — “This Is Not a Test“
Friedman seems to recognize that Hamas is an obstacle to peace, but he thinks that the solution is to embrace it!
Hamas has never, ever compromised its principles, which it holds with true religious fervor. When Hamas won the PA legislative election in 2006, the Quartet (comprised of the US, UN, EU and Russia) was prepared to support a Hamas-led PA government if it would recite a formula including recognition of Israel’s right to exist, acceptance of prior agreements between Israel and the PA and renunciation of violence. Hamas refused to agree to this and thereby forfeited huge sums of international aid. Thus the process of its marginalization in the PA began, ultimately resulting in the violent coup in Gaza.
As I’ve written numerous times, Hamas cannot be moderated by the responsibility of governing because the goal of Hamas is not to create a Palestinian state which it will govern. Rather, Hamas wishes to place all of historic Palestine under Islamic rule, ultimately to become part of a worldwide Islamic caliphate. Hamas is committed to doing this by means of violent Jihad. All this appears in the Hamas Covenant and on the lips of Hamas spokesmen.
The only ‘peace agreement’ with Israel that Hamas has ever countenanced was a hudna or temporary, strategic truce. Such a truce would last only until Hamas felt itself strong enough to defeat Israel, would require Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, release all Palestinian Prisoners, and grant a ‘right of return’ to ‘refugees’. It would emphatically not include elements of recognition of Israel or renunciation of the right to ‘resist’.
But Friedman thinks that Hamas can be moderated, although it would be ‘tricky’:
But bringing Hamas into a Palestinian unity government, without undermining the West Bank moderates now leading the Palestinian Authority, will be tricky. We’ll need Saudi Arabia and Egypt to buy, cajole and pressure Hamas into keeping the cease-fire, supporting peace talks and to give up rockets — while Iran and Syria will be tugging Hamas the other way.
Leaving aside the question of how moderate the “moderates” are, the very statement of this plan reveals its impossibility. Hamas has always opposed peace talks, and violent jihad — with rockets or anything else — is its raison d’être. I wouldn’t expect a lot of help from the Mubarak regime, which views Hamas — the offspring of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood — as an enemy.
There is no doubt that an attempt to meld the weak Fatah and the strong Hamas into a “national unity government” would result in nothing less than a Hamas government — and this wouldn’t even require Hamas to exert itself to overthrow the PA by force!
And a Hamas government is an Iranian-controlled one.
Most Westerners and probably most Israelis would prefer some form of two-state solution to a continued state of war or that idea beloved by the far Left, the “one-state solution”. But it should be absolutely clear that the presence of Hamas — either as a regime which controls the area in which 40% of the Palestinians live or, worse, as part of a “unity government” as Friedman suggests — makes any form of peace impossible.
The reality of the situation is not pretty, which is why so many insist on denying it.
There is a solution to this, which is that Hamas has to go. Israel had a good start on this with Operation Cast Lead, but depending on your interpretation of events, either stopped or was made to stop fighting early, while Hamas was still firmly in control.
If Mr. Friedman would like to see a two-state solution, or indeed any form of peace in the Mideast which includes a Jewish state, he will urge world governments to reject Hamas and to support Israel in a renewed military campaign to permanently remove Hamas from power, disarm it, and punish it so severely that Palestinians will understand that Hamas-style violent ‘resistance’ will not succeed in getting the Jews out of the Mideast.
While this may not be a sufficient condition to bring about a peaceful two-state solution, it is certainly a necessary one.