Thomas Friedman on Netanyahu’s New Choices

Thomas Friedman on Netanyahu’s New Choices

This NY Times op-ed by Thomas Friedman lays out Netanyahu’s choices and asks how he will use his powerful new coalition.  Will he stand pat or move toward peace?

…. Whenever a nation or leader amasses this much power, with no checks coming from anywhere, the probability of misreading events grows exponentially. Bibi could be assuming that the Palestinians in the West Bank can be pacified simply with better economic conditions. Don’t count on it. Humiliation remains the single most powerful human emotion. It trumps economic well-being every time. Bibi could be assuming that the Palestinian security services will indefinitely act as Israel’s forward police force in the West Bank — absent any hopes of Palestinian statehood. Not likely — eventually they will be viewed as “traitors.” Bibi could be assuming that Israel could strike Iran — and upend the world economy — and still continue to build settlements in the West Bank. I would not bet on that; the global backlash could be severe. …
…. I think [Ami] Ayalon has the best new idea: “constructive unilateralism.”

In an essay in this newspaper on April 24, Ayalon and two colleagues argued that Israel should first declare its willingness to return to negotiations anytime and that it has no claims of sovereignty on any West Bank lands east of its security barrier. It should then end all settlement construction east of that barrier and in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and establish an attractive housing and relocation plan to help the 100,000 Jewish settlers who live east of the barrier to relocate within Israel’s recognized borders. The Israeli Army would remain in the West Bank until the conflict was resolved with a final-status agreement. And Israel would not physically force any citizens to leave until an agreement was reached, even though relocations could begin well before then. Such an initiative would radically change Israel’s image in the world, dramatically increase Palestinian incentives to negotiate and create a pathway for securing Israel as a Jewish democracy. And Bibi could initiate it tomorrow. …
By | 2012-05-24T11:45:00-04:00 May 24th, 2012|Blog|11 Comments


  1. Anonymous May 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    Yes, Bernard Lewis and Thomas Friedman are guiding lights on how to deal with Israel and Palestine, Iraq, and the Middle East more generally. Friedman was of course also a leading Iraq war cheerleader, pushing for the war from the NY Times opinion pages.

    I’d suggest looking for insight from less discredited analysts


  2. Anonymous May 24, 2012 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    So, Ted, you and I may have disagreed with Friedman back nearly 10 years ago about invading Iraq, but does this mean that we can’t find value in anything this guy says, ever? And if you dislike what you read here so much, why do you keep coming back?

  3. Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 4:21 am - Reply

    Friedman occasionally gets something somewhat right, on the topics I know something about, but not very often. Perhaps when he reported from Lebanon in the early 80s he was less arrogant, insulated, glib and self-satisfied than he became. I do remember finishing From Beirut to Jerusalem many years ago wondering if he had ever gotten to know any Arabs well, learned any Arabic, etc..

    He dislikes Bibi and probably Likud in general, so his columns have of late become more critical of Israael. But he tends to give Olmert, Livni, Barak et al, a free pass, despite policies with outcomes that have not been substantively terribly different from Likud’s – growing settlements, oppression of Palestinians, wars on Palestinians and Lebanese, etc.. His advocacy of the war in Iraq betrayed very clearly a deep bigotry, ignorance and arrogance, actually not very distant from that of Lewis. I assume I don’t need to cite examples of that. They’re not difficult to locate.

    One reason I look at this blog, is because frankly I had once hoped for something from Meretz, as a “progresssive” party. I comment because I feel what I’ve seen here, and what I read about in other places, generally does not live up to that label. I probably also continue to read with some vague hope that perhaps there is some other side of Meretz that might show itself. Instead, to my dismay, I see Bernard Lewis. Thomas Friedman, and many other posts that are not much different. Perhaps Meretz was always this unprogressive, and it took me a while to see through it, or perhaps it has become worse with time.


  4. Ralph Seliger May 25, 2012 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    Friedman’s been right and he’s been wrong. If he supported the invasion of Iraq 10 years ago, it was not out of maliciousness or bigotry, but to get rid of one of the world’s most murderous regimes. (The same can be said about Bernard Lewis, who may or may not have actually advocated an invasion.)

    We may still criticize this point of view, but what Ted does repeatedly is to demonize people he disagrees with, and this undermines the spirit of honest discussion. This is what he constantly does with us, insisting that all of our bloggers write with one voice, and that we are “reactionary” or bigoted in some way.

    What we have described in this post is a really good idea from Friedman: how Israel can make genuine progress toward peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians. As such, it’s clearly worth promoting. We should also recall that Friedman personally persuaded the rulers of Saudi Arabia to launch a peace initiative to Israel 10 years ago, one which has been adopted by the Arab League. We have long wanted Israel to respond constructively to this proposal.

  5. Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    Ralph has either forgotten, or distorted Friedman’s justifications for war in Iraq. So I will need to find time to locate Friedman’s exact quotes. However, Freidman used terms and ideas like “punching a hole in the heart of the arab world,” and remaking Iraqi society through war into a democratic one that would then transform the Middle East by example. An outside power using war to attempt to “transform” a society and even a larger region is racist, arrogant, and also bound to fail, as it did.

    Indeed Friedman’s ideas echo those of Lewis, and if Ralph would return to the WSJ article, he would find that, in addition to Iraq, Lewis’ ideas were used 30 years ago by the Israeli government as part of the thinking behind the invasion of Lebanon and effort to “remake” Lebanon into an Israel-friendly country. We remember how well that worked out.

    I should give Friedman credit for promoting the Arab peace initiative. But, though he does raise it from time-to-time after the fact, as, mentioned above, he has failed to hold the feet of Olmert, Livni, Barak, et al., to the fire for failing to accept what can been seen as the most obvious route to peace available to Israel. Any opportunity for two states has now passed (though Friedman has not acknowledged that yet), in part because people like Friedman failed to hold Israel’s leadership accountable.


  6. Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    I can spend more time relocating his columns if you’d like, but this is one of the first articles that comes up, affirming esentially what I said re Friedman and the Iraq war:

    If you’re not satisfied based on this that my summary of Friedman’s justification for the Iraq and my description of it as racist and arrogant is accurate, I’ll spend an added bit of time locating more examples of his arguments.


  7. Ralph Seliger May 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm - Reply

    Thanks Ted. Friedman was clearly simplistic and pompous in this view. He was acting out the anger that many of us felt as a result of the attacks against us on 9/11. This was not the first time he was wrong, and he’d probably admit it now.

    Going back to something that somebody said or wrote years ago, and defining him forever by it, is also wrong. Branding people in the most unkind terms is one thing that left-wing Stalinist types and right-wing McCarthyites have in common.

  8. Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 9:44 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    Unfortunately, you’re not very up on Friedman. You give him too much credit. He’s never admitted he was wrong on the Iraq war:

    There are other specific places where he blamed the Bush administration for it’s failure, saying he had assumed they would do a better job. No admissions, no apologies. He retains the same arrogance and racism that allowed him to actively promote the view that the US could remake Iraq and the Middle East through war (with Israel as one important beneficiary).

    I don’t just hold that against him. Iraq is just one example of his more general problem in his writing, including on Israel and Palestine.

    I wouldn’t expect a lot of “progressives” would be promoting Friedman. And therein again lies the rub for Meretz.


  9. Ralph Seliger May 26, 2012 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Ted still doesn’t get it. This is not about Friedman, who is sometimes right and sometimes wrong. If he wants to hold Friedman’s feet to the fire on Iraq, that’s fine, but this has nothing to do with the point of Lilly’s post. She cites Friedman here because of his support for Ami Ayalon’s proposal for moving Israel and the Palestinians toward peace.

    Ted gets mired down in categories. Even if Ted disagrees with Lilly’s purpose, she represents herself in this post, not “Meretz.” And Ted should also understand that although we feel a kinship with and sympathy for the Meretz party in Israel, we do not speak for it; it is to clarify our identity that Meretz USA renamed itself Partners for Progressive Israel. And only blog posts by the generic entity, the “‘Partners’ Blogmaster,” or from exec director Ron Skolnik in the name of the organization, speak for the organization as such.

  10. Anonymous May 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    I think you’re confused. If Lilly was truly only posting Friedman to note Ami Ayalon’s ideas, then why didn’t she instead post Ami Ayalon’s April op-ed in the NY Times, that Friedman referred to? Instead her focus was the Friedman column (note that Ayalon is not even in the title, for example). I saw that op-ed when it came out and didn’t need Friedman to make me aware of his ideas.

    In terms of speaking for “Partners for Progressive Israel” I don’t think Partners can really disavow the views of “approved” posters like you, Lilly and the others, especially those who held past posts with Meretz-USA.

    And re the name Meretz, the URL for this blog is:


  11. Ralph Seliger May 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    Of course we don’t “disavow” the views of our various posters. But there’s always room for disagreement and discussion on our blog, something that Ted has a hard time accepting.

    We’ve also discussed whether to change the URL of our blog, in keeping with the name change, but decided that it’s better to keep it for now. I’m sorry if Ted sees something sinister in this.

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