Tom Friedman made some friends when he wrote this:
But there are two kinds of criticism. Constructive criticism starts by making clear: “I know what world you are living in.” I know the Middle East is a place where Sunnis massacre Shiites in Iraq, Iran kills its own voters, Syria allegedly kills the prime minister next door, Turkey hammers the Kurds, and Hamas engages in indiscriminate shelling and refuses to recognize Israel. I know all of that. But Israel’s behavior, at times, only makes matters worse — for Palestinians and Israelis. If you convey to Israelis that you understand the world they’re living in, and then criticize, they’ll listen.
Destructive criticism closes Israeli ears. It says to Israelis: There is no context that could explain your behavior, and your wrongs are so uniquely wrong that they overshadow all others. Destructive critics dismiss Gaza as an Israeli prison, without ever mentioning that had Hamas decided — after Israel unilaterally left Gaza — to turn it into Dubai rather than Tehran, Israel would have behaved differently, too. Destructive criticism only empowers the most destructive elements in Israel to argue that nothing Israel does matters, so why change?
But I am not buying it.
Certainly it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the rotten stench emanating from Oliver Stone, Philip Weiss, Max Blumenthal, Naomi Klein, and all the rest — including Friedman’s NY Times colleagues Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof. But Friedman, although perhaps a better human being than the others mentioned, still advocates policies that derive from a deep naivety about the intentions of the Palestinian (and other) Arabs.
In Israel’s case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.
So maybe he’s not that great of a human being after all. But let’s get back to the issue of naivete. Here’s something he wrote in January 2009:
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.
Huh? Consider that the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) has created, and continues to create, expectations among its supporters that it will reverse the nakba and restore Palestinian honor. It continues to demand ‘right of return’, and cannot admit that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. Despite agreeing to stop antisemitic incitement from its official media, it continues to allow it and to name schools and summer camps after terrorists. Then add to this the openly genocidal, Jew-hating Hamas as part of the Palestinian government! What do you think the chances for a peaceful solution would be then?
And this may not exactly be naivete, but something more cynical: Friedman supports the Saudi-Obama ‘linkage’ theory that says that a prerequisite for solving all of the problems of the Middle East, particularly Iran, is to force Israel back to 1949 borders. This was written in March:
Israel sees the question of preventing Iran from going nuclear as overriding and separate from the Palestinian issue, while the U.S. sees them as integrated. At a time when the U.S. is trying to galvanize a global coalition to confront Iran, at a time when Iran uses the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict to embarrass pro-U.S. Arabs and extend its influence across the Muslim world, peace would be a strategic asset for America and Israel.
I’ve argued that this is exactly backwards, and that Iran is deliberately exacerbating the conflict rather than passively benefiting from it. Further, there are so many issues — the struggle between conservative Arab regimes and Islamic radicals, Kurdish nationalism, Sunni-Shiite tension, Syrian and Hizballah aggression in Lebanon, the Turkish shift to the dark side — which are not dependent on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict! Why don’t they also make it harder to deal with Iran?
While I hope that Friedman has decided to keep a more civil tongue in his head than some others, he’ll have to go much farther to convince me that he’s anything more than a purveyor of the pernicious conventional wisdom and administration ‘line’.