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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 15, 2003

Baker's Mouthpiece and worse

It should be of little surprise that Thomas Friedman considers George H. W. Bush to be the most pro-Israel president ever:
Reading today's news, I think there should be little doubt that President Bush will go down in history as the most pro-Israel president of all time.

No, no — not this President Bush. I'm talking about his father, George Herbert Walker Bush.

This President Bush — Dubya — if he keeps going in the direction he's been going, will be remembered as the president who got so wrapped around the finger of Ariel Sharon that he indulged Israel into thinking it really could have it all — settlements, prosperity, peace and democracy — and in doing so helped contribute to the slow erosion of the Jewish state.

The first President Bush, by contrast, was ready to tell Israel and the Jewish lobby some very hard truths after the first Gulf war: that expanding settlements would harm Israel's long-term interests, would shrink the prospects for peace and would help undermine America's standing in the Arab world. And it was also the elder Mr. Bush who backed his secretary of state, James Baker, enough for Mr. Baker to twist Arabs' arms to get them to sit down, en masse, for the first time with Israel at the Madrid peace conference.
The reference to James Baker cannot go unmentioned. Friedman didn't just like Baker because Baker "forced" the Arabs to go to the Madrid conference. He liked Baker because Baker shared his contempt for Israel.

In Moshe Arens's "Broken Covenant," Dr. Arens tells of an incident where he had come to the United States to plead Israel's case with the Secretary of State. After the meeting Baker told Friedman - then the State Department correspondent for the NY Times - that he resented Israel's request for additional money. Friedman duly reported Baker's complaint the next day.

Arens asserts that Israel had never discussed financial aid and that Baker's falsehood was designed to make Israel look bad. Arens does not make clear if he thinks that Friedman knew that he was reporting a lie, but I'm sure that Friedman much enjoyed his role in increasing friction between the Bush administration and the Shamir government.

According to Baker's autobiography (second item on the left), his infamous "... when Israel's leaders are serious about peace, they can call me" came from Friedman.

The latter incident should raise questions about Friedman's journalistic ethics in that he blurred the line between reporting and being a source. But don't expect the Times to be bothered with that sort of thing even now when it's worried about its credibility. Together both incidents show that Friedman shared Baker's contempt for Israel's democratically elected government.

On to the substance of the column:

Friedman's nasty "...president who got so wrapped around the finger of Ariel Sharon that he indulged Israel into thinking it really could have it all — settlements, prosperity, peace and democracy — and in doing so helped contribute to the slow erosion of the Jewish state" once again suggests that PM Sharon is unduly influencing American policy. Is it possible that Bush drew his own conclusions about who the good guys and who the bad guys are?

Worse, is Friedman's underlying assumption that the Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is an unmitigated bad thing. This is typical in the media. The premise of most reporting on the Middle East is that Israel must get rid of the disputed territories for its own good. The security cost is never considered. Nor is the enormity of the sacrifice fully appreciated. Yossi Klein Halevi though, provides an excellent remedy for this sort of ignorance.
Still, as we approach our moment of decision, the language of euphemism with which we speak about withdrawal feels increasingly untenable. As a people, we need to courageously confront the consequences of uprooting - what Sharon calls, with rare understatement, "painful concessions." We need an advance account of the enormity of that pain, not in order to dissuade ourselves from accepting the brutal decree of history, but to do so without illusions. The failure of the Oslo process hasn't released us from the necessity of withdrawal, but it does demand an end to self-deception. And a key element of that self-deception has been our unwillingness to concede the human, social, and historical consequences of withdrawal.

The deception begins with the sterile phrase, "land for peace." "Land" implies a pristine landscape, devoid of human presence. In fact, the formulation means a destruction of worlds - neighborhoods and homes, schools and synagogues, hangouts and hitchhiking stations. It isn't "land" and it probably won't be "peace" - at least not a peace that means recognition of our right to exist and respect for the inviolability of our borders.

The human toll that will result from the destruction of organic communities is incalculable. After the Sinai town of Yamit was destroyed in 1982, many never recovered; for some, the result was depression and divorce. At its peak, Yamit contained perhaps 5,000 residents. Increase Yamit by tens of thousands and you can begin to imagine the implications for Israeli society that will result from a similar uprooting - the real word is "transfer" - in Judea and Samaria.
Friedman, of course, would argue that the trauma is self inflicted. Jews never belonged in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. But there's more:
One of the great mistakes of the Israeli Left has been to minimize Israel's claim to Judea and Samaria. The impulse was understandable: The Left downplayed the historic and emotional attachments to the land to resist the annexationist appeal. Yet it confused the need for physical withdrawal with an unnecessary emotional withdrawal.

The Left's denial of our historic claim - and its downplaying of the price we will pay for uprooting - has allowed the international community to see an Israeli withdrawal not as a concession at all but as the self-evident restoration of occupied land, the thief returning his booty.
Friedman, is first and foremost a leftist. He denies or minimizes the historical Jewish claim to Judea and Samaria. In that sense his worldview is closer to that of Yasser Arafat than it is to that of Ariel Sharon.

Take, for example, his statement that "[t]he first President Bush, by contrast, was ready to tell Israel and the Jewish lobby some very hard truths after the first Gulf war: that expanding settlements would harm Israel's long-term interests, would shrink the prospects for peace and would help undermine America's standing in the Arab world."

I know that the first President Bush is remembered fondly by Israel's critics for telling AIPAC in 1989 that Israel had to give up its dream of a greater Israel. But that isn't the problem and never was. I know that many of us cringe at the idea of giving up parts of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, but we also are more or less resigned to its happening. No one - not even Mr. Friedman - has told the Arab world generally and the PA in particular that it must give up on its dream of greater Palestine or no Israel. Even now there's no one, telling them that they have no reason to expect Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders. No one saying that Maale Adumin, French Hill and the Etzion bloc are part of Israel and there's no compensation. That's the consequence of turning down peace repeatedly; you pay a price.

President Bush made a start in the right direction with his June 24 speech last year. But he has to follow through on it. I know that there's a fashinonable refrain that Bush must bring pressure on Israel to bolster or restore his credibility in the Arab world. The result of Operation Iraqi Freedma is any indication its resolve that impresses the Arab world not sacrificing Israel. For all of the pressure Clinton applied to Netanyahu, it didn't make the Arab world support his peace summit in July 2000. It merely convinced the Arab nations that if they couldn't get what they wanted directly, America would bring the necessary pressure to bear on Israel to make even more concessions. (Such is the result of the Hebron Accords. The US promised that Israel would determine the amount of land it could safely withdraw from. When Arafat wasn't happy with the amount Netanyahu decided upon, Clinton and Albright pressed until Netanyahu brought the figure up to 13% at Wye.)
This is a critical moment. For the first time, the Palestinians have produced a prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas; a finance minister, Salam Fayyad; and a security chief, Muhammad Dahlan, who understand how badly the Palestinian Authority lacked proper institutions and how disastrous for the Palestinian people was the Arafat strategy of suicide terrorism and double talk with Israel.

When U.S. officials speak about the importance of reform in the Arab world, this new Palestinian team — even with its warts, and it has plenty — is the kind we should want to see empowered. But Mr. Abbas's success is not assured. Yasir Arafat and his cronies are still in charge and they want Mr. Abbas, Mr. Arafat's former underling, to fail. Mr. Abbas must deliver Israel security, but Mr. Sharon also needs to deliver for him, by improving Palestinian daily life and rolling up some of the renegade outposts that Mr. Sharon just let Jewish settlers erect in the West Bank, without a peep from the Bush team.
Those warts are quite significant too. What is most important now is to make sure that Abbas and Dahlan act. When Sharon had to dismantle Jewish communities in the Sinai, he did it. It's time for the PA to show that it can deliver secuirty to Israel. Sharon won't interfere. But if intelligence tells Sharon that there's a need to act he's not going to sacrifice his citizens just to test the PA's good intentions. Let's see a change of focus in the political and academic spheres of the PA. If the PA is no longer making antisemitism and grievance the language it uses to relate to Israel, then maybe its time to show a little understanding. Until then the PA must be assumed hostile and Israel must act.
Giving Israel that latitude is what makes the current President the most pro-Israel I have seen.
Cross Posted on IsraPundit and David's Israel Blog.