The Irresponsibility of Thomas Friedman - Jerome Slater

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The Irresponsibility of Thomas Friedman
by Jerome Slater

[Editor’s Note: Jerome Slater’s critique of Thomas Friedman raises important questions about the role of journalists in mis-shaping public understanding of the Israel/Palestine struggle. As we have repeatedly argued in Tikkun, the mistakes made in the creation and perpetuation of that struggle come from both sides, and any historical reading must acknowledge the continued propensity on both sides to engage in acts of violence. Palestinian extremists and terrorists are culpable too—not just Israelis. Because this magazine emerges from the West, where Israel’s side of the story is well known and largely accepted blindly, while the Palestinian side is systematically kept from public consideration, we have often tried to re-balance the story by presenting the facts that the American media and the cheerleaders for the right wing in Israel have kept out of public view. Slater’s critique of Thomas Friedman is part of that effort. In 2003 Tikkun published the book Healing Israel/Palestine in which we try to give a more fully balanced account of the struggle, recognizing that both sides have full culpability for the origin and continuation of the struggle, and we are proud to say that the book is as relevant today as it was when we first published it. Saying that does not diminish the importance of Slater’s challenging of the deep misunderstandings of the situation perpetrated in Western media—misunderstandings which continue to constrain the possibilities of rational pro-peace intervention by the United States.]

As close observers of the century-old conflict between the Zionist movement and the Arab residents of Palestine increasingly understand, the Zionist narrative is riddled with historical mythologies that do not stand up under close and dispassionate examination. But these myths have had the devastating consequence of blinding Israelis—and their unthinking American supporters—to their own role in the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as in the wider Arab-Israeli conflict.

To be sure, the Palestinians and the Arabs as a whole have their own historical mythologies, and it is obvious that Israel does not bear all the blame for the ongoing conflict. Still, it is the Israeli mythologies, largely accepted by most Americans, which have been the greater obstacle to a peace settlement, especially in recent years.

Before 2000, three major mythologies were refuted by serious historians and journalists—most of them Israeli. First, there was the myth that in 1948 a weak Israeli army (David) heroically overcame a strong Arab army (Goliath) that intended to destroy the new Jewish state; in fact, the Israeli armies outnumbered and outgunned a small coalition of half-hearted Arab armies, whose primary purpose was to prevent each other from grabbing off pieces of Palestine, rather than to “drive the Jews into the sea.” Second, there was the myth that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees voluntarily fled their homes and villages in 1947-48; the evidence is overwhelming that the main reason the Palestinians fled was either out of the justified fear they might be massacred, as had happened at Deir Yassin and elsewhere, or because the Zionist armed forces rounded them up and forced them across the borders into Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Third, there was the myth that both the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors “never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity” to reach peaceful political settlements with Israel; in fact it is Israel that has repeatedly turned down real opportunities for peaceful settlements—with Egypt until the 1970s, with Jordan until the 1980s, and with the Palestinians, Syria, and the Arab world as a whole today.

In all these cases, Israel’s leading enemies, as well as the Arab League, representing most Arab countries, were and still are ready not only to end their conflict with the Jewish state but to normalize diplomatic and economic relations with it, in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the West Bank, Gaza, and Arab East Jerusalem, followed by the creation of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Consequently, the main reason for the continuation of Israel’s conflict with the Arab world (other than with Egypt) is that Israel has refused to withdraw from the expanded territory it conquered in 1967.

Since 2000 there has been a new myth, one that may be even more factually wrong and pernicious in terms of its consequences in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to this myth, the last serious peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, at Camp David in July 2000, broke down because Yasir Arafat and the Palestinians rejected a generous settlement offered by Prime Minister Ehud Barak. This myth says the Palestinians made no counteroffers of their own, and turned instead to terrorist violence against the Israeli population.

One of the most important purveyors of this myth has been Thomas Friedman, the lead foreign policy columnist of the New York Times. In part because of the position he holds as a writer for the world’s most influential newspaper, in part because he often appears to be moderate and balanced in his analyses and commentaries, and perhaps even because of the glibness of his writing style, it is reasonable to assume that Friedman has had an important influence on U.S. understanding of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.*
*Dennis Ross, the head of the U.S. delegation at Camp David and a close adviser to Bill Clinton, has been equally influential, and equally misleading, in placing most of the blame for the breakdown of the peace process on the Palestinians in general and Yasir Arafat in particular. It is unlikely, however, that Ross had much influence on Friedman’s thinking, because Ross’s book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, The Missing Peace, appeared in the spring of 2004, whereas most of Friedman’s columns on Camp David and the intifada appeared in the 2001-03 period. I have criticized Ross’s arguments in “The Missing Pieces in The Missing Peace,” Tikkun, May-June 2005.

The Camp David mythology underlies the policies of the Bush administration, as well as the dominant attitudes in Congress, the general American public, and the American Jewish community. Within a few months of Camp David, however, a number of important works began appearing, all of them challenging various aspects of the mythology. Within the next three years, the literature became extensive, and today no part of this mythology has survived serious examination by numerous Israeli, American, Palestinian, and European scholars and journalists, and—especially—by Israeli diplomats and academic advisors who were directly involved in the events of 2000, as well as former military, intelligence, and government officials (see box on p. 49).

Thomas Friedman, however, continued to reiterate the mythology. According to a number of Friedman columns, at Camp David Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak sought to test whether Arafat and the Palestinians were ready for a real peace, offering them a comprehensive settlement in which, in return for a definitive Palestinian decision to end its historic conflict with Israel, they would get an independent state in “virtually all” of the West Bank and Gaza; half of Jerusalem, including all the key Arab areas; the removal of all the Jewish settlements within the new Palestinian state, with territorial compensation for the areas that would be annexed to Israel; and a return to Israel of a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees and either the right of return to the new Palestinian state or financial restitution to the others.

The Palestinians failed the test, Friedman wrote, leaving the Israelis without “a partner for peace.” To be sure, Friedman concedes, Barak’s (and, later, Clinton’s) proposals had defects and were not perfect from the Palestinian point of view, but this did not justify Arafat’s decision to walk away from continued negotiations and launch the intifada: the right response would have been to make a counteroffer and then employ diplomacy or even nonviolent resistance to extract more out of Israel. The Palestinians’ alleged failure to follow this course convinced Friedman that Arafat and his followers did not want a peaceful settlement with Israel but were continuing to seek its destruction.

There is a rather bizarre contradiction between Friedman’s acknowledgement of the realities of the Israeli occupation and his condemnation of the intifada as so inexplicable as to definitively demonstrate that Arafat was an extremist with whom it was impossible to negotiate. For example, Friedman has written that the Israeli occupation is both morally and practically disastrous—in his own words, at varying times, “brutal,” “idiotic,” “lunatic,” “rapacious,” and “a cancer for the Jewish people … [threatening] the entire Zionist enterprise” (“Dead Man Walking,” January 30, 2002).

Moreover, Friedman has conceded that Barak was negotiating with one hand while he “seized more Palestinian land for settlements” with the other; that this understandably led the Palestinians to “feel their living space was shrinking while Israel’s was constantly expanding, all under the umbrella of ‘peace’” (“Lifelines to the Future, April 2, 2002); and that the continued expansion of the settlements, checkpoints, and fences are “shameful act[s] of colonial coercion” (“It Only Gets Worse,” May 22, 2001) that have “transformed the West Bank into a series of cages … that will become factories of despair” (“One Wall, One Man, One Vote,” September 14, 2003).
Yet, Friedman professes not to understand why the Palestinians resorted to an uprising. While on one occasion observing that the Palestinians could hardly be expected to “just roll over and take it” (“Six Wars and Counting,” May 29, 2002), he nonetheless on various occasions characterized the intifada as “idiotic,” “brain-dead,” “insane,” and “a reckless, pointless, foolish adventure.” According to Friedman, Arafat never explained why an uprising was necessary or what its precise objectives were, never “offered a peace plan of his own that explicitly lays out for Israelis how their own Jewish state will be accepted by the Palestinians” (“A Mideast Policy for Mr. Bush,” January 19, 2001), and refused even to begin to prepare his people for the historic compromises a settlement would require. What he should have done, Friedman argued, was to have built on Barak’s “opening bid” and continue the negotiations; instead, Arafat preferred “to play the victim rather than the statesman,” and sought to “provoke the Israelis into brutalizing the Palestinians again” (“Arafat’s War,” October 13, 2000).

Friedman on Palestinian Intentions

If the intifada was unjustified and unnecessary, what conclusions should be drawn about Arafat’s purpose in “launching” it? Friedman can’t quite make up his mind about this crucial question, for at varying times he has offered four quite different answers:
1. Even if Arafat is still seeking a two-state solution, he will not accept it by means of a peaceful negotiations process; he and the Palestinians, “blinded by narcissistic rage,” didn’t want a state handed to them by Israel and the United States, preferring “to win their independence in blood and fire” (“Suicidal Lies,” March 31, 2002).
2. Anyway, Arafat will not settle for a two-state solution, for his rejection of the Barak/Clinton offers “leads to only one conclusion: that the priority of the Palestinians is not achieving an independent state. Their priority, apparently, is to kill Jews ... [and] attempt to eliminate 100 percent of Israel” (“The Intifada is Over,” December 5, 2001).
3. The violence has no political purpose at all. The suicide bombings inside Israel demonstrate that “the Palestinian national movement was being taken over by bin Ladenism, which is the nihilistic pursuit of murderous violence against civilians, without any political program and outside of any political context” (“Intifada is Over”).
4. In a variation on the no-political-purpose explanation, Friedman suggests that the intifada can be explained by symbolism or, alternatively, Palestinian self-hatred: “Palestinian youths [are] lashing out at the symbol of their failure to build a modern society ... [and] at the instruments of their decline—their own leaders. Their message to Israelis is: ‘We are somebody. We may not be able to make microchips, but we can make you miserable and we will do that even if it is making us destitute’ ” (“ The New Mideast Paradigm,” March 6, 2001).

Camp David Demythologized

A detailed review of the voluminous literature and evidence that has decisively refuted the Camp David/intifada mythology is beyond the scope of this article, but the main points can be briefly summarized. To begin with, Barak was the wrong man to negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians, which inevitably would require serious Israeli concessions and Palestinian trust that the concessions would later be implemented in good faith. In fact, the Palestinians had excellent reasons to distrust Barak: he had been a lifelong hawk who had opposed all earlier partial Israeli-Palestinian agreements and who regularly and publicly denigrated Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular, sometimes in barely disguised racist language. Even more importantly, as prime minister, Barak had continuously expanded the Israeli settlements in the West Bank—at a pace that exceeded even that of his hard-line Israeli predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu—and had refused to carry out several of the Israeli troop withdrawals and other measures that had been mandated by the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreements. All of this could hardly inspire Palestinian confidence that Barak would be willing to implement a genuine peace settlement that would necessarily go far beyond Oslo, requiring a near-complete Israeli withdrawal of settlements and armed forces from the occupied territories.

Even at Camp David, it was unclear how far Barak was prepared to go to reach a peace agreement—evidently even to Barak himself. Although at some level he had apparently come to believe that some kind of settlement with the Palestinians was a practical necessity, Barak continued to be of two minds on the matter. Moreover, even at the Camp David “negotiations,” astonishingly Barak refused to meet with Arafat and in other ways treated him with contempt. Later, a number of Palestinian and Israeli commentators, including members of the Israeli delegation, described Barak’s treatment of Arafat as a puzzling and gratuitous humiliation, and one which could hardly inspire Palestinian confidence in Barak’s willingness to reach a true peace settlement.

That aside, Barak made no concrete or verifiable offers at Camp David on any of the many specific areas of dispute, refusing to put anything in writing until the entire package he had in mind was agreed to by the Palestinians. Indeed, Barak now actually brags that he gave less to the Palestinians—in fact, as he puts it, “not a thing”—than did his hard-line Likud predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even so, there is a general consensus on the broad outlines of what Barak verbally seemed to be offering at Camp David: a demilitarized Palestinian state in some 85-90% of the occupied territories, but with Israel retaining (1) most of Jerusalem, (2) most of the largest Jewish settlements, typically located on the most fertile lands in the West Bank and some of them extending far from the Green Line into the Palestinian areas, (3) most of the West Bank water aquifers, and (4) direct military control over the Jordan River valley and adjacent mountains.

Thus, if Arafat had accepted Barak’s concept of a “fair and generous” settlement, the Palestinians would have gained only a tiny, impoverished, water-starved Palestinian “state,” divided into at least three different enclaves—in effect, Bantustans separated from each other by Israeli armed forces, roads, and settlements. Moreover, the Palestinians would be denied full sovereignty and control even over Arab East Jerusalem and the Muslim religious sites on the Temple Mount.

In short, Barak’s past history, his continued contempt for the Palestinians, and his ongoing policies of deepening and expanding the Israeli occupation suggested—and not merely to the Palestinians, but to Israeli critics as well—that his true goal was to make only the minimal concessions necessary to allow Israel to prolong and solidify what were, to him, the most important areas of the Israeli occupation.

No Palestinian Counteroffers?

Even so, it is demonstrably untrue that Arafat refused to articulate his goals, refused to make counteroffers, walked away from diplomacy, and launched the intifada. First of all, in 1988, again in the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreements, and publicly reiterated on many occasions thereafter, Arafat and other Palestinian leaders formally and publicly recognized and accepted the state of Israel within its pre-June 1967 boundaries and called for a two-state solution, with the Palestinian state to be created only in what was left of Palestine after the establishment of the state of Israel and its further expansion in the 1948 war. None of this stopped Friedman from writing that “If I had a dime for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasir Arafat, I would be a wealthy man today” (“Ballots and Boycotts,” January 13, 2005).

Put differently, Arafat personally and the Palestinian leadership generally committed itself to accept the established fact that Israel composed 78% of Palestine as defined by the League of Nations in 1919, so long as the Palestinians could get their own state in what re- mained. Indeed, not even quite that, for at Camp David Arafat agreed to accept the incorpo- ration into Israel of settlements near the Green Line and a number of Jewish neighborhoods in formerly Arab East Jerusalem, as well as the principle of Israeli sover- eignty over the Jewish parts of the Old City of Jerusalem.

As Abu Ala (Ahmed Quray), the chief Palestinian negotiator at Camp David, put it in an interview with an Israeli journalist in October 2001, “We have agreed to settle for the borders of 1967.... We get to keep only 22% of the historic land of Palestine and you get to hold on to all the rest. We have recognized Israel and agreed to its demands for secure borders and security arrangements.... You did not consider all this to be concessions on our part. You pocketed these incredible concessions and made more demands. You wanted massive settlement blocs that would have turned us into a state of cantons.... As far as you are concerned, Palestine is all yours, as though we never existed” (Ma’ariv, October 28, 2001).

In short, it is hardly the case that the official Palestinian goals are unknown—it’s just that Friedman simply refuses to believe that they are so limited, mainly because of the rather odd inferences he insists on drawing about the Palestinian resort to violence. First, there appears to be no evidence at all that Arafat rejected Barak’s offer at Camp David because he wanted to win a Palestinian state only through “blood and fire”—it would appear that this assertion is uniquely Friedman’s. Furthermore (as I shall argue below), there is no basis for the inference that the Palestinian uprising could only be explained by the desire to destroy Israel rather than simply to gain an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Intifada

On several occasions, Friedman wrote that, after Camp David, Arafat “walked away” from further negotiations and “launched” the intifada. The facts are clearly otherwise, however. To begin with, the intifada did not erupt until two months later, and the precipitating cause was not a negotiations deadlock but Ariel Sharon’s highly provocative “visit” (accompanied by over 1,000 Israeli police officers) to the Temple Mount. Before that—and even afterwards—there continued to be a variety of contacts between Palestinian and Israeli officials. As a result of these secret negotiations as well as the “Clinton Plan” for a settlement, both sides met again in December at the Taba conference. At these meetings the Israeli delegation, this time led by Yossi Beilin and including other prominent peace activists, made significant new concessions over Jerusalem, the settlements, the territorial disputes, and the extent of a continued Israeli military presence in the West Bank. In turn, the Palestinian delegation effectively (though not in so many words) dropped its demand for a large-scale right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, made concessions of its own over several Jerusalem issues, and agreed to accept an international force in the Jordan River valley. Tragically, the Taba conference came too late, in part because Barak began backing away from the concessions of his own negotiating team, and in part because there was no doubt that the impending victory of Ariel Sharon in the Israeli elections of January 2001 would render irrelevant any agreement reached at Taba.

Furthermore, there is no known evidence that the intifada was ordered by Arafat, despite Friedman’s repeated assertions, as in: “Please don’ t tell me you can’ t control your own people. You’ve sold us that carpet one too many times” (“Dear Ariel and Yasir,” October 23, 2001). The best evidence today strongly suggests that the intifada was a grassroots and spontaneous explosion of Palestinian rage—indeed, one that was directed not only at the occupation but at Arafat’s failure to have ended it. It is probably the case that Arafat later gained a significant degree of control over the non-Islamist groups participating in the intifada, and therefore over some of the Palestinian violence; even so (Friedman to the contrary notwithstanding), few informed observers believed that Arafat controlled the suicidal terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In short, far from following a “strategy” that employed the intifada as its main tool, Arafat was riding on the back of the tiger. That was the conclusion, in effect, of the Mitchell Commission, a blue-ribbon international commission headed by former Senator GeorgeMitchell whose task was to investigate the Palestinian intifada and the Israeli response. Friedman was not pleased that the Mitchell Commission found no persuasive evidence Arafat ordered the uprising; his response was, “Take all the Mitchell reports, make a big pile out of them, and set them ablaze into a gigantic bonfire” (“It Only Gets Worse,” May 22, 2001).

Subsequently, much of the Israeli intelligence establishment, including Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet, confirmed the findings of the Mitchell Commission. One could hardly find a more decisive refutation of Friedman than that of Ami Ayalon, who headed the Shin Bet in 2000:
“[Yasir] Arafat neither prepared nor triggered the Intifada. The explosion was spontaneous, against Israel, as all hope for the end of occupation disappeared, and against the Palestinian Authority, its corruption, and its impotence. Arafat could not repress it ... he can fight neither against the Islamists nor against his own base. The Palestinians would end up hanging him in the public square” (Ha’aretz, January 7, 2002).

What If Arafat Had Launched the Intifada?

Still, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that Arafat did order the intifada: What would that prove? For centuries it has been an established tradition in the West (and certainly in the United States) that an oppressed people who have exhausted political methods of redress have a right of armed revolution. In that case, it was hardly unreasonable—let alone “idiotic,” “insane,” etc—for the Palestinians to have concluded in 2000 that political methods of redress had failed.

To be sure, armed revolution must be distinguished from terrorism; attacks on an oppressive state and its military forces may sometimes be legitimate, but attacks on innocent civilians can never be. It has been widely (and conveniently) forgotten, and not only by Thomas Friedman, that in its early stages the Palestinian uprising did not employ terrorism. Indeed, there was very little Palestinian armed violence against anyone in the first few weeks of the intifada, during which hardly any Israelis were killed—although hundreds of Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli police and military units.

Even after the Palestinians turned to violence, Arafat and other Palestinian leaders repeatedly stated that the intifada was not directed against the state or the people of Israel proper (i.e. within its pre-1967 boundaries) but only against the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Its behavior was generally consistent with this claim; with but a few exceptions, until the election of Ariel Sharon in early 2001 ended all chances of a negotiated political settlement, Palestinian violence was directed at either Israeli military forces or the most extremist settlers within the occupied territories.

Thus, while the Palestinian resort to terrorism after 2001 can never be justified, neither can it be ignored that it was most likely a response to the increasingly repressive and violent Israeli occupation. Indeed, Israeli journalists, intellectuals, retired military and intelligence officials, and even some politicians have publicly drawn an explicit connection between Israeli actions and the Palestinian response. Not Thomas Friedman, however. On the contrary, Friedman wrote: “The world must understand that the Palestinians have not chosen suicide bombing out of ‘desperation’ stemming from the Israeli occupation. That is a huge lie. Why? To begin with, a lot of other people in the world are desperate, yet they have not gone around strapping dynamite to themselves.... Let’s be very clear: Palestinians have adopted suicide bombing as a strategic choice, not out of desperation” (“Suicidal Lies,” March 31, 2002).

The question of Palestinian terrorism aside, no fair examination of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can avoid discussing Israel’s own attacks, direct and indirect, on Palestinian civilians—which under Ariel Sharon included the deliberate devastation of the Palestinian government bureaucracy, economy, and even society as a whole, including schools and universities, and even public health institutions. Remarkably, in one of his rare (though backhanded) acknowledgments of the connection between this Israeli behavior and the Palestinian response, Friedman blamed Arafat rather than Sharon: “By provoking Israel with repeated suicide bombings, Mr. Arafat triggered an Israeli retaliation that didn’t just destroy Arab cities—as he did in Amman in 1970 and Beirut in 1982. This time he provoked the destruction of Palestinian cities” (“Six Wars and Counting,” May 29, 2002).

However bizarre the upside-down moral analysis implied in this kind of argument, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Friedman was wrong in recommending to the Palestinians that they “oppose the Israeli occupation with nonviolent resistance ... and build a Palestinian society, schools, and economy, as if [there was] ... no occupation.” Had the Palestinians done so, he concluded, “they would have had a quality state a long time ago” (“The Core of Muslim Rage,” March 6, 2002). The problem, of course, is that Friedman’s blithe confidence in the efficacy of nonviolent resistance was woefully disconnected from the harsh realities of the Israeli occupation. First of all, there is no evidence that even Barak, let alone Sharon, would have responded to the largely moral pressures of nonviolence and ended the Israeli occupation. Even more importantly, in recent years Israeli actions in the occupied territories have been clearly designed precisely to prevent the Palestinians from building a viable state, economy, or functioning society.

Even so, in retrospect and in light of what we now know about the consequences of the intifada, it is hard to deny that the Palestinians should have at least tried nonviolent resistance. However, that was hardly clear at the time, especially because the historical record of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank after 1967 had made it unmistakably clear that the longer the “peace process” was stretched out, the more Israel would take advantage of its unconstrained power to create “facts on the ground.” Moreover, there was ample historical evidence to show that Israel might change long-held policies if subjected to high costs, but only if subjected to high costs, as it did in its withdrawals from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after the 1973 Yom Kippur War and from Lebanon in 2000 and again in 2006. Indeed, it was only after the first Palestinian intifada in the late 1980s that Israel agreed to recognize Arafat and the PLO as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people and enter into negotiations with them.

Does Anti-Semitism Explain Western Criticism of Israel?

It probably is the case that there is no country in the entire world—not even Israel itself—that is less critical of the Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinians than the United States. Perhaps that is to be expected in the Arab and Muslim world, or maybe in the non-Western world in general; however, the anger and disillusionment with Israel is also widespread in the democratic and previously strongly pro-Israel societies of Western Europe.

Thomas Friedman’s explanation for the growing hostility to Israel is anti-Semitism, including in the West. Indeed, he has been especially vitriolic about Europe. In 2002, in several of his more remarkable columns, he denounced “the European fools who now rush to protect Mr. Arafat” (“What Day Is It?” April 24, 2002). Not only was Arafat seeking the end of Israel rather than just an independent Palestinian state alongside of Israel, but so were the Euro- peans, he argued, writing, “Yes, yes, many Europeans really do just want an end to the Israeli occupation, but the anti-Semitism coming out of Europe today suggests that deep down some Europeans want a lot more: They want Mr. Sharon to commit a massacre against Palestinians ... so that the Europeans can finally get the guilt of the Holocaust off their backs and be able to shout: “Look at these Jews, they’re worse than we were” (“Nine Wars Too Many,” May 15, 2002).

About a year later, as if to demonstrate that he had not merely temporarily lost his head, Friedman essentially repeated the charge. After accusing the Europeans of focusing only on the plight of Arabs living under Israeli occupation while ignoring those living under Arab dictators, he wrote, “We all know what this is about: the Jewish question.” In case his readers did not quite understand what he meant, Friedman then approvingly quotes a friend of his that the Arabs are of interest to “many Europeans” only because of their desire “to stick it to the Jews” (“ The Gridlock Gang,” February 26, 2003).

The Irresponsibility of Thomas Friedman

In the introduction to his 2002 book that reprinted many of his columns on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11), Friedman boasts that he has “total editorial freedom to take whatever stance I want on an issue,” that no one but the copy editor sees his column before it is published, and that the publisher of the Times has never commented on anything he has written. “I am completely home alone,” he writes in his preface.

It shows. In his columns on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, especially in the first three or four years after Camp David, Friedman utilized this complete freedom from criticism and accountability (1) to make arguments, statements, and charges that had been repeatedly demonstrated to be factually wrong; (2) to make a number of assertions for which there was no evidence, as if they were so self-evident that no evidence was required; (3) to oversimplify and even, on occasion, vulgarize the issues; and (4) on several occasions to indulge in emotional diatribes that managed to be simultaneously unpersuasive and self-contradictory.

At least on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then, Friedman’s unbounded self-confidence in his own views is an unearned one, for he has not been seriously interested in learning in depth about the events in recent years, or in correcting his many errors or poorly-grounded arguments as new information and analyses became available. As a result, Friedman’s discussions of the breakdown of the peace process at Camp David and after, as well as his analyses of the causes of the Palestinian intifada, are neither intellectually respectable nor, given his great influence, morally responsible.

Further Reading:
“The literature became extensive…”
It includes Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, “Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors,” New York Review of Books, August 9, 2001; Agha and Malley, “Camp David and After: A Reply to Ehud Barak,” New York Review of Books, June 13, 2002; Moshe Amirav, interview with Ha’aretz journalst Aryeh Dayan, “Barak Began Referring to ‘Holy of Holies,’” December 9, 2002; Shaul Arieli, interview with Akiva Eldar, “They Just Can’t Hear Each Other,” Ha’aretz, March 11, 2003); Yossi Beilin, The Path to Geneva (New York: RDV Books, 2004); Beilin, “What Really Happened at Taba,” Ha’aretz, July 15, 2002; Akiva Eldar, “On the Basis of the Nonexistent Camp David Understandings,” Ha’aretz, November 16, 2001; Charles Enderlin, Shattered Dreams (New York: Other Press, 2003); Gershon Gorenberg, “The Real Blunders,” Jerusalem Report, November 20, 2000; Akram Hanieh, “The Camp David Papers,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Winter 2001), pp. 75-97; Baruch Kimmerling, “From Barak to the Road Map,” New Left Review, Vol. 23 (September-October 2003); Menachem Klein, “Shattering the Myths of Camp David,” Ha’aretz, August 8, 2003; Robert Malley, “Israel and the Arafat Question,” New York Review of Books, June 13, 2002; “Palestinian Response to the Clinton Proposal,” December 30, 2000, text in Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories, (Washington, D.C.: Foundation for Middle East Peace, January-February 2001; Jeremy Pressman, “Visions in Collision: What Happened at Camp David and Taba?” International Security, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Fall 2003): pp. 5-43; Ron Pundak, “From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?” Survival, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Autumn 2001), pp. 31-45; William B. Quandt, “Clinton and the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Winter 2001), pp. 26-40; Yezid Sayigh, “Arafat and the Anatomy of a Revolt,” Survival, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 47-70; Jerome Slater, “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process,” Political Science Quarterly Vol. 116, No. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 171-199; Deborah Sontag, “A Special Report: Quest for Mideast Peace,” New York Times Magazine, July 26, 2001; Clayton E. Swisher, The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process (New York: Nation Books, 2004)

Malley was a member of the U.S. delegation to Camp David; Amirav, Arieli, Beilin, Klein, and Pundak were either members of the Israeli delegation or close military or political advisers to Barak; Hanieh was a member of the Palestinian delegation. The others are Israeli, American, and Palestinian scholars and journalists.

More recently, two other major books by participants at Camp David have blamed the failure of the negotiations on both Barak and Arafat, though more so on Arafat; even so, they are far more balanced than Friedman, and provide plenty of evidence of Israeli rigidities: Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), and Gilead Sher, The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, 1999-2001 (London: Routledge, 2006). Ben-Ami was the Israeli Foreign Minister under Barak and Sher was the chief Israeli negotiator at Camp David.

Jerome Slater is the University Research Scholar at SUNY/Buffalo. He writes regularly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other foreign policy issues for professional journals, and is the author of many articles in Tikkun.

The cowardly view

The "balanced" view I always despised. This is the cover of cowards who always give two sides to a story so as not to have to engage in anything; they'll say anything, even the crudest lies, call it objectivity and sit back in their chair while blood is dripping.