Israel: Friedman of the NY Times surrenders to One-State Solution, sees ME Apocalypse

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Tom Friedman of the New York Times has completely given up on a two-state solution, forthrightly abandoning the polite fiction that there will ever be a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and ridiculing American presidential candidates for speaking as though it were still a possibility. In fact, he proclaims, with an eye for the glaringly obvious, the peace process is dead:

“The next U.S. president will have to deal with an Israel determined to permanently occupy all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, including where 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians live.”

Friedman proposes a long list of those responsible for the failure of the peace process. It isn’t remarkable that he blames, among many others, Palestine president Mahmoud Abbas and the Gaza party-militia, Hamas, though it would have been refreshing if he had admitted their powerlessness truly to affect the equation. It is sort of like blaming the Inca for Francisco Pizarro’s brutal conquest of Peru.

What is remarkable is that he puts Israeli and/or pro-Israeli actors first in his rogues gallery and pulls no punches. The villains of this piece include:

1. Fanatical Jewish settlers on Palestinian land.

2. Right-wing Jewish billionaires, such as Sheldon Adelson, who shielded expansionist Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from criticism by influencing the US Congress. (Friedman has long since implicitly acknowledged the argument of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their The Israel Lobby, but this statement of it took even me aback; I think focusing only on the rightwing billionaires is a little unfair, since there are lots of Israel lobbies and many supporters of the Israeli squatters are neither rich nor right wing.)

3. Netanyahu himself, characterized as power-hungry and unimaginative: “Bibi won: He’s now a historic figure — the founding father of the one-state solution.”

Friedman had for decades championed a two-state solution and even once pressed for a US military presence in the West Bank to allow (or force) an Israeli withdrawal. Like many American Jewish supporters of Israel, he sees the Israeli Right’s determination to swallow up the Palestinian West Bank as endangering the future of the Israeli state, rather as the Everglades python doomed itself by trying to swallow a whole crocodile.

Friedman concludes,

“Let the one-state era begin. It will involve a steady low-grade civil war between Palestinians and Israelis and a growing Israeli isolation in Europe and on college campuses that the next U.S. president will have to navigate.”

Of course, the low-intensity civil war is already a daily reality in the West Bank. Here are headlines from just the last couple days from a site that closely follows developments in Israeli-occupied Palestine (these are headlines seldom seen in the US press and never on American television, creating a vacuum of knowledge that itself skews US views):

Army Kills A Palestinian Child In Hebron

Soldiers Kidnap Three Palestinians In Hebron

Israeli Army Kidnaps 23 Palestinians

Army Kidnaps Six Palestinians Bethlehem, One In Jenin

Seven Palestinians Injured Near Bethlehem

Qassam Fighter Killed in Tunnel Collapse

UPDATE: Israeli Forces Kidnap 18 Palestinians in West Bank and Jerusalem, including Minors

Settler Wounded in Gush Etzion Stabbing

Settlers Assault Shepherd near Hebron

At the end of his column Friedman waxes apocalyptic about the Middle East:

“So my advice to all the candidates is: Keep talking about the fantasy Middle East. I can always use a good bedtime story to fall asleep. But get ready for the real thing. This is not your grandfather’s Israel anymore, it’s not your oil company’s Saudi Arabia anymore, it’s not your NATO’s Turkey anymore, it’s not your cabdriver’s Iran anymore and it’s not your radical chic college professor’s Palestine anymore. It’s a wholly different beast now, slouching toward Bethlehem.

One big difference between academic analysis and this kind of op-ed is that the latter still tries to explain the world through character flaws, as though everything is a Greek tragedy. This form of argumentation was also popular also in the Victorian age.

Thus, Netanyahu is fatally greedy and ambitious. Sheldon Adelson is arrogant and a puppet master. Israeli squatters are fanatics. Mahmoud Abbas is feckless. Hamas is stubbornly aggressive, so much so that it declines the possibility of becoming Singapore by making peace with Israel (talk about bedtime stories).

In authoritarian states, the character of the ruler is not irrelevant, of course. And in our new American oligarchy, the character of our billionaires, from Trump to Adelson to Saban, is also consequential.

But larger forces are at work here. Rashid Khalidi has pointed to a settler-industrial complex, whereby Israeli colonization of the West Bank is increasingly an element of the Israeli economy, creating internal lobbies for the policy. Lax Israeli campaign finance regulations have allowed Sheldon Adelson to have an outsize impact on Israeli politics (including dumping his free pro-Netanyahu newspaper on the market, to the disadvantage of other dailies and other parties). Congressional support for Israel is certainly to some extent bought and paid for by Adelson and others, but some of it comes from the Evangelical Right and some of it from imperial security considerations (Israel as a kind of aircraft carrier for the US in the Middle East).

Friedman’s depiction of Iran as a “rogue state” that is over-reaching could be challenged. Iran could be seen as the conservative power here, as simply supporting a long-standing status quo in Lebanon and Syria. It is supporting the American-imposed status quo in Iraq. Tehran probably isn’t actually much involved in Yemen. So what has changed is that Saudi Arabia has become a revolutionary, Napoleonic force in the region, bankrolling the overthrow of the populist Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, attempting to overthrow the Baathist republic in Syria (founded in 1963), and to tip the balance of power toward the minority Sunnis in Lebanon.

I voice this critique because I think it is important for policy-making to consider economic and power and environmental dynamics and not to focus only on the character of politicians. Some constraints are structural. If Mahmoud Abbas were replaced by Salam Fayyad, he would also fail to achieve a Palestinian state. That is because Israel is a regional Power and can dictate to the Palestinians, and the Israeli elite has decided to keep them stateless and to steal their land.

I’d like to point out that the low-intensity civil war going on in the West Bank is not guaranteed to be a steady-state phenomenon. At some point it could become a high-intensity civil war. Given the state collapse in Syria and Iraq and Yemen and Sinai, it cannot be predicted what the outcome of such a civil war will be on the region and on Israel. The Israeli far right, which is in power, appears to think that it will be possible simply to transfer the rebellious Palestinians to Jordan and Egypt. But Egypt won’t permit it, and can prevent it. Jordan would likely collapse under the shock, with severe security implications for Israel. Millions of Palestinians would stream as refugees into Europe.

So, I think Netanyahu’s policies are presenting the next president with a security challenge substantially more severe than the end of the two-state solution or a low-intensity civil war. The specter of actual civil war in the West Bank is the real beast slouching toward Jerusalem.

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Related video:

AFP: “Two Israelis jailed for burning Palestinian teen alive”

22 Responses

  1. Most of the world’s conflicts will go away if those in the position of power and control adhered to this very simple and universal ethic: “Do not do unto others what you don’t want done unto you.”

    But to put that into practice, the world needs leaders who reflect the higher consciousness, whose qualities include selflessness, generosity, love, forgiveness, humility, sharing, serving others with no expectations, detachment from the transient, lack of desire for power, control and acquisition, etc.

  2. The two state solution, advocated tirelessly by mediocre politicians who lack historical vision, is therefore unrealistic, unworkable and dangerous.

    Unrealistic and unworkable because one can’t unscramble an egg, and dangerous because genuine grievances can’t be suppressed permanently by shortsighted political decisions.

    Moreover, Jews, Muslims, Christians and others would be perfectly free to practice their religious beliefs and, unlike the current situation, would enjoy unfettered access to their respective holy places. And all would be treated equally before the law as citizens.

    Furthermore, every citizen would be free to live wherever he or she likes in accordance with the law. For example, a Jew would be free to settle anywhere in Israel/Palestine. A Palestinian would be accorded the same right.

    Nonetheless, the two communities must realize by now that that they have to reform and amend their old, anachronistic ways and especially their views of each other.

    Palestinians will have to discard, once and for all, their dreams of cleansing Palestine of Ashkenazi and other Jews who arrived in the country following WWII.

    Likewise, Jews must come to terms with the fact that Palestinians have at least an equal right to this land of Israel/Palestine.

    This vision of one-state for all, where Jews and Palestinians live equally and peacefully in a unitary, democratic, civil state is not too idealistic to be practical. It happened in South Africa; and it is practiced in many countries all over the globe.

    • Sorry but unrealistic just because it happened in S. Africa not necessarily will happen here. The envoy that got N. Ireland peace treaty again thought that this would be piece of cake. No….different cultures must be treated differently. Reconciliation in Argentina and Chile after years of dictatorship quite different also as it continues to happen more directly in Chile than in the other. Now we all know that a 2 state solution will not happen after years of trying……Israel will NEVER allow a majority Palestinian population within “its borders” and will never go back to UN decision of 1967 borders. Lastly, S. Africa and N. Ireland are both one country. The situation here is TWO countries.

  3. “And in our new American oligarchy, the character of our billionaires, from Trump to Adelson to Saban, is also consequential.”

    Needs to be said with more force. Especially the “new American oligarchy” part. Some folks still think they live in a constitution-based federal republic with a strong democratic tradition. link to cia.gov

  4. Hello Tom! Congratulations on your epiphany! Unfortunately, it’s about 20 years late. Anyone who watched Bibi and Sharon destroy the Oslo agreements back in the 1990s knew that a two state solution was never in the cards. But ignoring the obvious certainly provided time and cover for the settlements to get ever more entrenched and for the situation to get even worse.

  5. It has not helped the matter that Obama is a thoroughgoing Zionist accepting all of the dogma of the Zionist movement including that Jews have a historic right to ‘The Land of Israel’ (a phrase that only occurs in Mark, in the New Testament), and that Jew longed for a homeland for 2000 years, a complete lie incorporated by David Ben Gurion into the state’s Declaration of Independence. Zionism was inherited from Christian Zionism which preceded it by 500 years and was only embraced by a minority of Jews of eastern Europe in the 1880’s.

    In fact, there is little ideological difference between Netanyahu and Obama, their differences are largely personal.

  6. When someone as out of touch with reality as Friedman usually is admits that the two state solution is dead, you can take it to the bank. The big question now is when Abbas will admit it and allow his sinecure to expire, and when will young Palestinians take over and openly convert their cause to a real civil rights struggle in the single state. When that happens American politicians will finally have to face up to the fact that their repeated incantation of the ever more impossible “two state solution” has really been a cover for supporting apartheid. And perhaps the rest of America will wake up.

    • …or rather, descend further into informational middle ages absorbed with problems that really threaten peace on earth like abortion clinics and the third amendment. They rather stop to read Friedman

  7. As a proud
    WWII veteran it thoroughly DISGUSTS me that the U.S. and Western Europe stand by with their hands in their deep pockets and allow this historic travesty to proceed unfairly…unabashed…and unconscionable.

    Just an afterthought: those last three words sound like an inspirational title for a biography of Benjamin Netantahu.

    The current re-incarnation of a once-great nation has lost its guts as well as its gonads! The leadership of the Western World awaits without…….without guts, without a once-strong sense of justice……and without the derring-do which has characterized it history.

    Let the games begin…..and may fairness and ultimate justice prevail !!!

    it has shed its inspiration at viewing “the dawn’s early light” even as “the rockets’ red glare” once again dominates the horizon.

    But, most of all, it has turned away from its sense of honesty, integrity and JUSTICE even as the need for its historic fairness is perhaps the GREATEST EVER!

  8. The ‘two-state solution’ was always ‘unrealistic’ because those who claimed to be in favor/support of it in the US and Israel did everything they could to undermine it. It was used as a cover for the work of destabilizing and destroying the people of Palestine which was carried out under the noses and platitudes of the Western media, which like Hollywood always tries to paint America/Americans as the ‘heroes’ despite the death-squad dictatorships the CIA and Pentagon created/creates all over the world.

  9. >(Israel as a kind of aircraft carrier for the US in the Middle East).

    Its an odd belief for them to hold, from the best of my knowledge israel has never served this purpose in any major american wars in the region, like kuwait has for example.

  10. Do I care what Friedman thinks….not at all….why do you Juan Cole?…Just like his pal Brooks at NY Times they are so far away from the reality of the world. Their dream is a domination by the USA everywhere and a big check in their pockets.

    • Oh, please! YOU may not care what Friedman says (and I haven’t read him since 2002 when he supported the Iraq invasion) but he reaches a pretty broad audience. No revolution or national liberation struggle has won without a broad coaltion internally and the ability to affect public opinion externally. Friedman plays a role in the latter and for him to ‘give up’ on two states and project unprecedented turmoil in the ME shows the depth of the Jewish diaspora’s split with Netanyahu and the vulnerable positon he’s in now into the future.

      • Friedman’s criticism of Netanyahu may be welcome, but he has defended, and even advocated, Israeli aggression for decades. Some within the Jewish diaspora may have split with Netanyahu, but that does not mean they are advocating dignity and justice for the Palestinians. Moreover, the unprecedented turmoil in the ME is a to a large degree the result of American aggression in the region, something Friedman, and other Liberal Imperialists, refuse to acknowledge.

        • “……….the unprecedented turmoil in the ME is to a large degree the result of American aggression in the region, something Friedman, and other Liberal imperialists, refuse to acknowledge.”

          Thomas Friedman did in fact warn that the U.S. involvement in Lebanon in support of the Maronite-controlled Lebanese Army during the civil unrest during the 1980s would result in a perception among Shia Lebanese that the Americans were opposed to the Shi’ite interests.

          Mr. Friedman astutely pointed out that dissenting voices among U.S. Armed Forces in Lebanon felt that firing 2-ton shells from offshore battleships (ordered by National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane) into Shi’ite neighborhoods could create a blowback from the perception that the U.S. was siding with the Maronites. Not long after this, the suicide bombing carried out by Shia extremists at the USMC base in Beirut occurred, killing 237.

          Friedman was also critical of Israel’s Likud-dominated foreign policy moves following the Operation Galilee IDF invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

          Mr. Friedman has generally been dismissive toward Likud and American neo-conservative policies toward Lebanon and the Israel/Palestine issue.

      • “………I haven’t read him since 2002 he supported the Iraq invasion……..”

        Friedman did support the invasion of Iraq believing that the removal of the Baathist regime would allow a democracy to flourish and become a model for other countries in the Middle East to follow – obviously he miscalculated.

        His other “clinker” was his professed belief that Israel could defeat Islamic militant forces in Lebanon primarily through strategic air strikes. This idea was implemented by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, an air force general, in the 2006 Second Lebanon War and resulted in Hezbollah emerging from that conflict as more popular and eventually growing into the seventh largest military power in the world – and with Gen. Halutz resigning in humiliation after issuance of the Winograd Commission report sharply criticizing his performance.

        That said, Mr. Friedman, a longtime member of the Council on Foreign Relations, authored the critically-acclaimed “From Beirut to Jerusalem” book which won him several awards and is considered an important primer to Lebanese and Israeli politics during the 1980s. Friedman has had an influence on international foreign policy via his connections to the Clinton and Obama administrations. He also briefed Saudi leaders during the formulation of the proposal issued by then-Crown Prince Abdullah.

  11. Juan, you wrote

    “The Israeli far right, which is in power, appears to think that it will be possible simply to transfer the rebellious Palestinians to Jordan and Egypt. But Egypt won’t permit it, and can prevent it.”

    Actually, there may be more to it than that, given the Egyptian government’s skittishness over being tied openly to Israel. Take a look at this story from the Jerusaelm Post

    link to jpost.com

    Egyptian officials cancelled a meeting with Netanyahu scheduled to be held in Cairo after Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that Egypt had followed Israel’s request to flood and collapse Hamas tunnels. Al-Sisi knows that cooperation with Israel is unpopular with Egyptians, and he’s scared out of his skin that he’ll be painted as a collaborator. If Israel tries to export Palestinians to Egypt, and if al-Sisi is seen as collaborating in this, a popular uprising could jeopardize his government. I’m not exactly sure what will replace his government if it is swept away, but I can guarantee you Israel won’t like it. If Israel tries to transfer Palestinians to Egypt it may well add to instability in the region.

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