Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thomas Friedman's "Extra Mile"

Ah, the ever-flowing fount of cynical wisdom that is Thomas Friedman.

In today's NYT, TF pans the UN speeches of Messrs. Obama, Abbas, and Netanyahu - but in his belief that it's Israel thta has the most to lose in the current impasse, he suggests that Mr. Netanyahu go the "extra mile" for the cause, not so much of peace, but of Israel's security and international standing:

Given these stakes, here is what a farsighted Israeli government would say to itself: “We have so much more to lose than the Palestinians if all this collapses. So let’s go the extra mile. Abbas says he will not come to peace talks without a freeze on settlement-building. We think that is bogus. We gave him a 10-month partial freeze and he did nothing with it. But you know what? There is so much at stake here, let’s test him again. Let’s offer him a six-month total freeze on settlement-building. What is six months in the history of 5,000-year-old people? We already have 300,000 settlers in place. It is a win-win strategy that in no way imperils our security. If the Palestinians still balk, they will be the ones isolated, not us. And, if they come, who knows? Maybe we cut a deal.”

That so many Americans can accept as a legitimate international-affairs columnist a man who strives more for catchy phrasing that deep analysis is worrisome - and depressing - in itself.  But I'm staggered by the blatant cynicism here.  A six-month total freeze?  Because, after all, Israel has succeeded in planting 300,000 settlers in occupied territory?  (And actually, the number is much higher; I believe TF omits from his count the number of colonists Israel has planted in East Jerusalem - where, yesterday, it approved 1100 new housing units, much to the dismay of the EU (along with a tellingly puny complaint of "not helpful" from Hillary Clinton).

Has Friedman now joined the ranks of the Elliot Abramses of the commentariate?  You know, the "experts" who insist that the whole issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem  is bogus?  Are they blind? No.  I suspect that they are more than happy to be complicit in what has been, since 1967, the creeping - and blatantly illegal - Israeli annexation of land that represented the last hope for the creation of a viable Palestinian state and at least a partial fulfillment of long-stymied Palestinian nationalism.  

And the cynical prescriptions of Thomas Friedman reflect a view of Middle Eastern affairs that is focused almost entirely, and exclusively, on Israel's security, rather than on any desire for the justice that the Palestinians deserve, and must be accorded - and soon - if Israel is indeed to have any security, much less any longer-term existence.  Let's face it.  With

  • an Israeli regime that features a bluntly spoken racist-fascist foreign minister and that is apparently happily in thrall to settler extremists and ultra-religious elements
  • a Turkish government that is recreating itself as the neo-Ottoman shield, standard-bearer, and potentially avenging sword for the Arabs (Erdogan as Saladin?)
  • a populist neo-Arabism - its burgeoning supporters linked by shared sense of ethnicity, grievance, and core Muslim values, by Facebook and Twitter, and by a resurgent anti-Americanism born of too many years of US myopic focus on Israeli interests (and too many years of the American military - or its proxies - humiliating or slaughtering fellow Muslims)

Israel is both isolating itself (along with an America rapidly becoming too enfeebled to ride to its rescue) and narrowing its options to either somehow turning to a very new and brighter page in its relations with its neighbors, or else death-marching to Armageddon (the original site of which - Megiddo - lies within the modern state of Israel).

And with such cynical prescriptions, Thomas Friedman may someday be remembered as one of the many escorts along that march.

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