Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tom Friedman Suck On This

Before I begin, I have to explain that when I was a bit younger, maybe twenty years ago or so, I used to be a big Tom Friedman fan, largely stemming from his book From Beirut to Jerusalem. My affinity for Friedman started to crumble when I read something from Edward Said, mocking Friedman's tale of dragging his golf clubs through the minefields of Lebanon. Then watching Friedman during the lead up to the Iraq War I left him for dead. By the time Friedman gave his infamous interview on Charlie Rose, explaining the Iraq War as the US justifiably kicking down the collective Arab door and telling them to "suck on this," he was Fonzi on skis. Now I read Matt Taibi's takedowns of Friedman for pure pleasure. And still, Friedman's take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pretty spot on.

Ever since Saturday night I've been trying to figure out how to explain the point I'm about to make. Walking home from the train this evening it hit me.  And here it is.  You ever watch a show on tv and try to guess what happens next in the plot? Well, in my house, your guess only counts if you "go on record." Saying "I was thinking that" or " I was about to say that" only brings derisive laughter.   

So back to Saturday night. As I was waiting for the previews to begin for the 9:20 p.m. showing of Midnight in Paris, I received an email with the link to Tom Friedman's Sunday NY Times article proposing a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his column, Friedman suggested an update of UN Resolution 181, which would recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders modified by mutually agreed upon land swaps and reaffirm the UN's recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Along with the link to Friedman's article, my emailing correspondent wrote: "Tom Friedman advocates the exact the same plan as yours." I instantly knew what he meant. So I clicked on the link and began thinking how I would write this post. You see Friedman had just published his op-ed putting forth the very same idea as I had put down in an email just two weeks before, using substantially the same language. And no, I'm not suggesting he saw my email.

When I linked to Friedman's column on Monday I still didn't know how or whether I would write about this. After all, I hadn't exactly gone on record, at least not on my own blog. On the other hand I had put it in an email. On Monday I posted a couple paragaphs from Friedman, said I liked the idea, and hinted there was more to come. Finally, I decided to just copy and paste my email here and leave it at that. First, however, here once again are the excerpts from Friedman's column:
If the Palestinians want to take this whole problem back to where it started — the U.N. — I say let’s do it. But let’s think much bigger and with more imagination.
On Nov. 29, 1947, the U.N. passed General Assembly Resolution 181, partitioning Palestine into two homes for two peoples — described as “Independent Arab and Jewish States.” This is important. That is exactly how Resolution 181 described the desired outcome of partition: an “Arab” state next to a “Jewish” state.
So why don’t we just update Resolution 181 and take it through the more prestigious Security Council? It could be a simple new U.N. resolution: “This body reaffirms that the area of historic Palestine should be divided into two homes for two peoples — a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state. The dividing line should be based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed border adjustments and security arrangements for both sides. This body recognizes the Palestinian state as a member of the General Assembly and urges both sides to enter into negotiations to resolve all the other outstanding issues.” Very simple.
Now for my email, written two weeks earlier (with some identifying information redacted):
Sent: Mon, June 6, 2011 12:25:07 PM
Subject:  Abbas welcomes French bid to revivepeacetalkswith Isr...

I hope this clarifies my post.

UN Resolution 181 (1947) partitioned the land between the river and the sea into a Jewish state and an Arab state, expressly using the wording "Jewish state" and "Arab state." Resolution 181 also defined the boundaries of the two states, which are much less favorable to Israel than are the current borders and are no longer realistic. (Resolution 181 also established an international regime for Jerusalem.)

As to the proposed resolution, I imagine the Palestinians would draft something along the lines that would include recognition of an independent state in the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capitol. I was suggesting that we urge Israel and the US to become active in negotiating the language of the proposed resolution, with the aim of including language regarding security for Israel, land swaps, etc., and reaffirmance of Resolution 181's recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and Palestine as an Arab state. The key is that Israel would gain explicit Palestinian recognition as a Jewish state.

If the question is how the borders would be defined in the proposed resolution, my answer would be that they would be defined along the 1967 borders with mutually agreeable land swaps. Perhaps a dispute resolution mechanism if the parties cannot agree. Not sure how the ambiguity regarding borders would play out politically or practically.

Regarding settlements, I would note that Resolution 181 provided for a time period for withdrawal of British troops. I suppose a proposed resolution could provide likewise for a withdrawal of settlements.
There it is. Blog Zahav scooped Tom Friedman! So, Tom, you know what you can do now. And for me, maybe it's time to rethink my idea. Or not. Like I said, Friedman's pretty good on Israel, golf clubs and all.


  1. I think you're being a bit hard on Tom Friedman. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight, his support for the Iraq war was misguided. At the beginning, many Americans (myself included, though I was in high school, so that doesn't really count) supported the war.
    I think Friedman's contributions as a foreign policy intellectual have mostly been positive. As you say, he has been pretty consistently right about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he seems to have read China quite well. In any event, I'll take Friedman over Edward Said any day. That being said, he's no match for my personal favorite, Fareed Zakaria.

  2. A couple points here. First, Friedman's support for the war was based on the idea that somehow we could bring democracy to the Arab world through war. Second, did you see Rose interview? That wasn't about hindsight.