Tom Friedman’s latest advice to Palestinians: accept a farce of a state

23 April 2012

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According to Friedman, Palestinians should give up even more and be satisfied with much less in the name of peace.

(Najeh Hashlamoun / APA images)

In a recent opinion piece, Thomas Friedman exposes the Middle East peace process as a fraud and himself a con man (“Awakened Arabs need the Palestinians to create a model state,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11 April 2012).

He smugly offers the Palestinians advice on how to settle their conflict with Israel. His advice? To peacefully demonstrate while carrying a map of a proposed Palestinian state that would be acceptable to most Israelis.

This idea that Palestinians protest while carrying the map that Friedman starts to describe is ludicrous. He thinks they should forget about all their grievances from 1948, when the bulk of Palestinians in 78 percent of Palestine were violently driven from their homes never to be allowed to return, while those homes were then seized and given to immigrating Jews.

But that’s not all. He wants the Palestinians to accept hundreds of thousands of heavily armed and violent Israeli settlers in enclaves carved deep into the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine. These settlements are connected by roads only Israeli citizens and foreigners can use. How does Friedman wants these roads to be portrayed on his map?

He wants Palestinians to give up a huge part of East Jerusalem. He might think he is being magnanimous when he says Palestinians can have “all Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem,” but the corollary to this is that Israel gets to keep all of the neighborhoods it ethnically cleansed while installing 200,000 colonists.

What “concession” does Friedman propose?

And while Friedman does not specifically mention it, his map is based on the so-called “generous offer” made by Ehud Barak to Yasser Arafat at the Camp David summit mediated by President Bill Clinton.

That map left Israel with the banks of the river Jordan, giving Israel control over the regional water supply and control over all the land borders of the West Bank. Did I mention that Israel would also maintain control over the West Bank’s air space, just as it has maintained control over Gaza’s airspace since the “unilateral withdrawal” of 2005 that Friedman referred to?

What “concession” does Friedman propose Israel make in exchange for this prime territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank? A “land swap.”

Does this mean that on Friedman’s map Palestinians will get control of Nazareth and other towns in northern Israel that are populated by a Palestinian majority, complete with Palestinian-only roads linking them to the West Bank? Would Palestinian neighborhoods in Haifa come under Palestinian control? Would the Dimona nuclear weapons facility be considered a fair exchange for the borders and airspace of the West Bank? Of course not.

The swap that Friedman thinks is fair is one in which Israel can select the land it most covets and can offer the land it least values, which would be some isolated and uninhabitable tract in the Negev (Naqab) desert.

Friedman thinks that his map, which is nothing but a list of additional concessions, should be carried by every Palestinian engaging in unarmed civil disobedience. Will it shield them from bullets, or prevent them from getting thrown in prison? Would Rachel Corrie still be alive if only she had that map in her hands?

Double or nothing vs. cash in the chips

Friedman says his plan will revive the “Israeli peace camp.” The problem is that there never was much of a genuine peace camp in Israel. Israel is for the most part divided into a “cash in our chips” camp and a “double or nothing” camp.

The “double or nothing” camp has been for establishing more settlements, housing developments, and security facilities in the remaining Palestinian lands. And it keeps striving for more, even though that requires continuing the violence.

The “cash in the chips” camp wants to stop acquiring more of these “facts on the ground,” but wants to keep whatever has already been acquired. It wants peace provided it can continue to enjoy its ill-gotten gains.

Part of the problem is that the “silent majority” in Israel that Friedman writes about has elected a string of governments from the “double or nothing” camp that has established more and more facts on the ground that the “cash in the chips” camp wants to cling to. Friedman’s map is a prime example of the “cash in the chips” mentality. It is easy to say you want peace if it means preserving a status quo that is very favorable to you.

Not enough chips left

The problem is that there are no longer enough “chips” left for the Palestinians to establish anything more than a farce of a state. The entity that Friedman and others envision for the Palestinians would not have control of its own borders, its airspace, its coastline, or its water resources. It would have no military. It would be non-contiguous and gerrymandered, ridden with enclaves of heavily armed and hostile religious and racist fanatics; and criss-crossed by roads that could be used by the fanatics but not the Palestinians. How is that a state? And without a Palestinian state, how is there a two-state solution?

The point of Friedman’s preposterous proposal is not to suggest to the Palestinians a strategy for ending their tribulations, but rather to help Israel’s supporters among his readers relieve themselves of any feeling of moral culpability — as after all, the onus is on the Palestinians to carry his map.

Titus North is the executive director of Citizen Power, a non-profit research and advocacy organization in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Before joining Citizen Power, he taught at the University of Pittsburgh for five years and covered the Japanese financial markets for Thomson-Reuters for 20 years.