Clicking on banner ads keeps JWR alive
Jewish World Review March 1, 2002 /16 Adar, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Tom's Big Peace Proposal

The Friedman plan is a public-relations effort to try and divert us from looking at Saudi complicity in Islamic terrorism -- ONCE upon a time there was a renowned New York Times columnist named Thomas Friedman, who had two Pulitzer Prizes in his pocket, and all the wealth and honor that such a person accrues. But the book contracts, speaker's fees, television appearances and the freedom to work on his golf game wasn't enough.

Something was wrong.

As a Middle East "expert," Tom had been telling everyone for years from his bully pulpit on the Times' opinion page that if only Israel would make enough concessions to the Palestinian Arabs, everything would be all right.

Sometime in the 1990s, Tom also apparently figured out how to work the on/off switch on his computer, and this revelation gave him a big idea. He then spent time touring exotic spots around the globe, playing golf and interviewing Third World leaders who generally told him what he wanted to hear: namely, that all they really wanted out of life was a new Lexus, a reliable cell phone and a satellite dish with access to the Playboy channel. Tom sought to prove that this meant that the causes of conflict - pride, honor and religious fanaticism - would be erased by a drive for consumer goods. The desire of the Arabs for technology would make them forget about wanting to destroy Israel.

Then, in the summer of 2000, President Bill Clinton's passion for a Nobel peace prize and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's domestic political problems led them to a summit at Camp David, where Barak offered the Palestinians just about everything in his pocket.

Tom didn't trust Clinton to pressure Israel as much as he did his old pal, former Secretary of State James "bleep the Jews" Baker (who once acted on one of Tom's suggestions to publicly taunt Israel), but he liked the general idea. The concessions were not supported by the majority of the Israeli people, and would have divided Jerusalem and threatened Israel's security. B ut Tom thought Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat couldn't pass on such a sweet deal.

He was wrong. Arafat turned it down flat. Two months later, the old terrorist launched a war of attrition against Israel that was waged by both Islamic fundamentalists and Arafat's own "police" forces.

It was now apparent - even to dim lights like Tom - that the Palestinians weren't interested in peace, even on their own terms. Then came Sept. 11 and the support for Osama bin Laden around the Arab world that was further proof of the importance of the fundamentalism that Tom thought was outdated.

Tom viewed this not as a sign of his own intellectual bankruptcy, but rather a failure of the Arabs to listen to him. Tom also resented those critics who pointed out just how wrong he had been all along. But rather than crediting them with a better understanding of the Palestinians, he just dismissed them. Tom spent the next year-and-a-half sulking and tried to divert himself with other issues. But without the Middle East, he was just another smart-aleck with a cliché-filled prose style.


A few months later, Tom visited Saudi Arabia. But in spite of his championing of the Palestinians and derision for Israelis who aren't leftists, he found most Saudis think of him as just another Jew.

Then he had a brilliant idea that, if properly promoted, might ensure that the Times' ax-wielding new editor Howell Raines wouldn't separate Tom from his expense account.

That idea was revealed in a column published on Feb. 17, in which he floated a peace proposal. The terms were simple. Israel would unilaterally give up everything it gained in the Six-Day War, including all of eastern Jerusalem and its Old City, as well as 100 percent of Judea and Samaria and hand it over to Yasser Arafat as a reward for his rejection of peace and the 18 months of war that had cost the lives of hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians. In exchange, Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel's right to exist.

According to his own breathless account, when Tom suggested this to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the prince said that Tom was reading his mind, and that he had just such a proposal on his desk. Tom was thrilled and announced that peace was at hand, if only those pesky Israelis would carefully read his column.

Four days later, Tom's self-promotion was embraced by the editorial page of the Times. On the same day, an article plugging the plan by Henry Siegman, the leftist former leader of the American Jewish Congress, was run on the opinion page. A day later, The Philadelphia Inquirer's Friedman-wannabe, the ever-mediocre Trudy Rubin, chimed in with a "me-too" column endorsing the "Saudi" plan.

Other good friends of Israel in Europe picked up the notion as did some in Israel who were looking for something to use against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. News editors seized on this non-story and proceeded to puff it up into a full-scale peace initiative.

The aim of all of this buzz was, in part, to pressure President Bush to abandon his strong support of Israel and his opposition to Arafat. Enemies of Sharon see the proposal as a way to shift blame for the war from Arafat to the Israeli government. Both the U.S. and Israel said they liked the idea of the Saudis showing support for any notion of peace but it is a long way from there to something real.


So what's wrong with the idea?

Like so many other so-called peace initiatives, the Friedman plan is a public-relations effort aimed at Western audiences and not the Arab public. In fact, the Saudis never offered the proposal to anyone but Friedman. The real purpose for them is to try and get the American press to stop reporting about Saudi complicity in Islamic terrorism and anti-American extremism. Second, the idea that an Israeli retreat to the 1949 armistice lines could bring peace is a fallacy. Arafat's insistence at Camp David on the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees makes it clear that they still see the conflict as one that must end in Israel's destruction.

A unilateral Israeli withdrawal would also weaken Israel both morally and militarily. Nobody even pretends anymore that a Palestinian state will be demilitarized. Such a retreat would also be analogous to Barak's skedaddle from Southern Lebanon in the months before Camp David. Few would dispute that Hezbollah's victory over Israel emboldened the Palestinians to attempt the current intifada. But this time, with the loss of all of Israel's strategic depth, the consequences would prove even more dangerous.

Israel's people are currently demoralized, with many wondering why Sharon has relied on half-hearted military measures against the terrorists at a time when Jews are being murdered by Arafat's minions virtually every day.

Yet far from aiding Israel or the ever-suffering Palestinian people, the Friedman/Saudi plan helps only its authors and diverted attention - at least for a few days - from Arafat's war at time when Jewish blood continued to flow.

The bottom line is that Friedman's stunt won't be be anything more than a footnote in the history of the conflict, if that. No Israeli government in the foreseeable future will repeat Barak's mistakes, let alone exceed them as Friedman prescribes.

This story does illustrate just how a powerful writer can use his position to promote a personal agenda. That is common enough. But the way this self-infatuated journalist shamefully smeared his byline across a painful chapter in Jewish history should not be forgotten.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

Jonathan Tobin Archives


© 2000, Jonathan Tobin