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Thomas Friedman

Aidan Fishman


by Aidan Fishman, July 4, 2011

One of my fondest childhood memories is that of traditional Friday night dinners at my grandparents' house, and later, their apartment. Toward the end of the meal, tea would be served, accompanied by the obligatory plate of lemon slices to counter the almost painful sweetness of the beverage.

I never drank tea, but my parents would marvel as I picked up the lemon slices one by one and consumed them wholeheartedly, a habit I had inherited from my beloved grandfather. Contrary to popular belief, plain lemons actually taste quite good.

Acclaimed American journalist Thomas Friedman would do well to digest this point.

On June 18th, Friedman published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “What to Do with Lemons” that can be accessed here: Using the “lemons into lemonade” analogy, the long-time commentator on Middle Eastern affairs offered a creative new American strategy for the dilemma of September's expected Palestinian push for a recognized independent state at the UN. In short, Friedman argued that the US should propose its own UN Resolution recognizing Palestinian independence on something close to 1967 lines and leaving all outstanding issues for later negotiations.

This article sparked a furor in Israel and in pro-Israel circles worldwide. Many felt that Friedman, long considered a friend of the Jewish State, had betrayed Israel and handed the Obama Administration yet another avenue for “throwing Israel under the bus”, an image invoked to describe the President's Middle East speech in May. The right-wing Israeli political satire known as “Latma” even portrayed him as a blabbering narcissist in love with his own reputation.

But the anger over Friedman's supposed narcissism and perceived betrayal of Israel really misses the point. The true importance lies in the content of his article, which, to put it mildly is stupid and unrealistic. In short, he tries to solve a problem that doesn't exist by inventing a solution that won't work. Let's take a closer look.

Of course, Friedman's piece of misguided punditry is located squarely in the shadow of the PA's vain attempt to secure UN membership in September. Just to show that he hasn't completely lost touch with reality, Friedman states the obvious by noting that neither Israel nor the US want to see Palestine admitted as a full member state, which would likely lead to UN sanctions targeted at Israel.

So the obvious response would be for the US to stymie Palestinian ambitions by using its Security Council veto power, a step that it has taken on numerous other occasions to safeguard Israeli and American interest. But apparently, such an action would “complicate America's standing in the Arab-Muslim world”.

Really?! Does Friedman really think that an American veto would convince the leaders of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others to end their security cooperation with the US? Does he really believe that American support for the creation of a failed state waiting to happen led in part by Hamas, a fanatical terrorist organization, will make Arabs and Muslims forget about the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq?

And even if this bizarre foreign policy about-face would dramatically improve relations with the “Arab street”, why would the US abandon its most powerful and most stable Middle East ally in order to appease a fickle and amorphous body of public opinion that could swing radically in the other direction within a month of the fateful UN vote?

The truth is that the anticipated American veto won't change anything, especially since even some Arab states, such as Jordan with its 75% Palestinian population, are leery about unilaterally establishing a Palestinian state.

So the Palestinian push for unilateral statehood does not pose a foreign policy dilemma for the Obama Administration. Even so, it's worthwhile to examine Friedman's erstwhile “solution” just to recognize how stunningly naïve it truly is.

Friedman wants to summon the ghost of UNGA Resolution 181 from 1947, which originally called for the partition of the Mandate of Palestine into two separate state for Jews and Arabs. He pretends that an updated version of this resolution would give both sides some of their key demands while leaving more difficult issues for a later date.

What would the Palestinians receive? They would be gifted most of their more “reasonable” demands: recognition of statehood, UN membership, and full control of territory within 1967 borders (with mutually agreed land swaps). Most critically, they would also have a dramatically improved bargaining position vis-à-vis Israel when it comes to other issues, such as Jerusalem or refugees.

And the Palestinians would be handed all this as a reward for attempting to massacre the Jewish population of the Holy Land at the time of the original 1947 resolution, stubbornly refusing to negotiate with Israel from 1967 to 1989, launching a Second Intifada of terror from 2000 to 2005, and ignoring numerous gestures from the Netanyahu Government designed to restart talks, such as a ten-month settlement freeze in 2010.

In return, Israel gets UN and US recognition of the legitimacy of land swaps and “formal UN recognition as a Jewish state”. 
The “land swaps” initiative is a complete red herring. The Bush Administration already gave Israel clear, written assurances that it could keep settlement blocs such as Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Beitar Illit in any hypothetical two-state solution, although the Obama Administration has attempted to backpedal and forget about this inconvenient reality. In fact, even the Palestinians tacitly accepted the concept of land swaps at Annapolis in 2007.

Friedman also completely misses the mark on the “Jewish state” question. First of all, the UN effectively recognizes Israel as a Jewish state via Resolution 181 in 1947. Furthermore, Israel doesn't need or want this recognition from the UN. It's the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, who must accept this reality and accept Israel's legitimacy as a permanent feature of the Middle Eastern landscape.

And they won't do it. Fatah's de facto foreign minister, Nabil Sha'th, bluntly stated in an interview with Arab-Israeli newspaper Al-Qul al-Arab that “We do not recognize anything called the state of the Jewish people”. This is besides the fact that de-legitimization of Israel, and indeed, the entire Jewish nation, is rampant in the Palestinian media, with the PA itself playing a leading role in this grave phenomenon.

Friedman's plan demands that Israel make gut-wrenching concessions, effectively handing the Palestinians more than half of what they ostensibly desire. Israel can expect practically nothing in return. The Jewish state should not have to surrender massive swathes of territory so that the Palestinians stop living in denial and learn to accept reality. In order for a two-state solution to be feasible, Israel needs ironclad security guarantees like the demilitarization of the West Bank, not empty words from Ban Ki-Moon or President Obama.

The actual suggestions of “What to Do With Lemons” are so divorced from the real world that under normal circumstances, I would feel safe throwing it in the trash can and never giving it another thought. But in recent months, Thomas Friedman has come close to parroting the White House line on Middle Eastern issues.

Needless to say, this is a bad omen for supporters of Israel. September should be a sure thing, but with the Obama Administration, one can never be certain of anything.

Winnipegger Aidan Fishman is studying international relations at the University of Toronto.

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