Richard Landes: Tom Friedman and the Deep Superficiality of Western Thinking about the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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Tom Friedman’s latest effort to offer advice on the “peace negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority offers some in-depth insight into how superficial much of current Western thinking is on the matter. In it, he expresses some exasperation with Israel’s behavior – like a spoiled child – in refusing Obama’s request for an extension of the settlement freeze. In the process of laying out his case, Friedman reveals a curious tunnel vision which, I think, is symptomatic of many Westerners.

It’s not that Friedman’s approach, what I call the PCP1 (Politically Correct Paradigm ) is necessarily wrong (which I think it is, at least right now). It’s that Friedman clearly doesn’t even consider that the other approach, the JHSP (Jihad Honor-Shame Paradigm ) might be more accurate for analyzing the situation and devising successful strategies to deal with it (which I think it is, at least right now). And it’s not that these paradigms are “scientific” in the sense that one’s right and the other’s wrong. They’re about people and cultures, and therefore much less pre-determined.

But since, if the JHSP is the appropriate one for this case at this time, and you apply strategies based on the PCP, the consequences are far more than simple failure. When post-modern masochism (it’s our fault) comes together with pre-modern sadism (it’s your fault), the marriage is not a very pretty sight.

As a prelude to fisking Friedman, let’s just for a moment, review how differently PCP and JHSP analyze the key issue he treats in this op-ed piece – Israeli settlements on the West Bank. For the Politically-Correct Paradigm (PCP) – which Friedman and the overwhelming majority of the Mainstream News Media (MSNM) channel, as illustrated by Jim Clancy of CNN – they are the obstacle to peace. Settlements beyond the the “Green Line” (’67 border) compromise the “land for peace” formula; they eat away at the land that Palestinians want to create their state side by side with Israel.

They are, from the PCP, illegal (or should be if they’re not ); they create enormous friction with the local population; they’re troubling evidence of Israel’s expansive tendencies; they ruined the Oslo Peace Process; and it’s entirely understandable that Palestinians are deeply angered by them and demand their cessation. In order for the Peace negotiations to advance, it’s a minimal demand. Settlements have the power to drive “peace” advocates to call for murdering “every last man, woman and child “, to drive Wikipedia to its least impartial entry . Obama reflected this thinking when he announced his intention to “solve this problem in a year or two” at the beginning of his presidency by pressuring Israel to call a freeze.

Of course, the evidence systematically contradicts the PCP belief that the solution is through settlement dismantling and “land for peace.” Since Israel has already twice agreed to dismantle settlements in the territory it cedes to the Palestinians (Barak 2000, Olmert 2007), construction in 95-97% of the West Bank (i.e., beyond the Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel blocks adjacent to the Green line), far from being an obstacle to peace, just means that the Palestinians will get to enjoy the fruit of Israeli labor. As for work in areas that even the PA has (in principle) agreed will stay in Israel, they’re not an issue. So why do the Palestinians make such a fuss over them?

For the Jihad Honor-Shame Paradigm (JHSP), most (if not all) Palestinians view all of Israel as a settlement ; they do not want (the West Bank) land for peace; their definition of peace is “from the river to the sea.” Some – like Abbas – say what we want to hear about compromise in English, but all, in Arabic agree, and teach their children, to expect and demand it all, an effort which has born fruit in the current generation of irredentist Palestinians, 78% of whom feel that Palestine from the river to the sea is an essential goal.

From this perspective, Palestinian objections to building in the West Bank settlements (including East Jerusalem) is ploy to sandbag negotiations, and insistence on no building on any section beyond the Green line is a sign of how little they hold by their agreement to make border adjustments. In short, it’s a sign of bad faith.

Thus, settlements illustrate just how wrong-headed Obama’s approach has been in this regard. Taking Palestinian complaints that the settlements were intolerable to them, and the major obstacle to peace, Obama pressured Israel to put a freeze on building in them as a sign to the Palestinians that they were willing to make concessions for peace. Rather than bring on reciprocal moves from the PA, it made them more intransigent. It literally created the current problem: for the first time in the history of the “peace process” since 1991, the PA refused to negotiate without a settlement freeze.

In other words, Obama’s strategy backfired. For those of us familiar with the dynamics of the JHSP, this was more than predictable. For those committed to the PCP – the vast majority of the policy makers and MSNM, this didn’t quite sink in. On the contrary, they continued to focus on the settlements as the problem, and demand a further extension of the freeze as a way to get the Palestinians to be more “reasonable.”No lesson learned.

But the problem goes much deeper, and its depth may explain the reluctance of the PCPers to register the failure of (civil) expectations. The very idea that the settlements need to be uprooted, every last one of them, clearly implies that the Palestinians plan a Judenrein state. This is hardly a good omen for Palestinian ability to establish a state that can recognize the human and civil rights of minorities, and presumably a violation of all those principles that progressive use to criticize Israel ‘s lack of tolerance today. And yet the PCPers have no problem with this demand; indeed, it’s taken as axiomatic that Israel must accede. Apparently there’s not much appetite for facing the formidable obstacles to peace from the Palestinian side.

But this extremist demand that assumes no possibility of shared space under Palestinian sovereignty, and that excludes Jews from some of their most ancient holy places (among the oldest in human history), points towards a more serious problem: for many Palestinians, especially in their zero-sum political culture, it’s an occupation “from the river to the sea.” Indeed, Tel Aviv is occupied ; all of it is to be “returned” or, better yet, seized violently. As the Arab proverb especially popular in the early Second Intifada holds: What was taken by force must be taken back by force!

So the settlement issue is indeed a central issue, but not the way PCP sees it. It’s not the cause of the hostility, but a symptom, and its importance to Palestinians reflects not their concern for getting a decent state, but rather their way to avoid negotiations that might lead to a decent state only on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is a perfect illustration of our cognitive egocentrism that the foundation of all our strategic thinking holds that the Palestinians will make peace if they get their own nation on the land Israel conquered in the ’67 war. And if, as so much evidence indicates, that’s the last thing they want ?

As is so often the case with the Palestinians, moreover, what they don’t do is more important than what they do do. The real problem for the last two decades (since Oslo), has not been the plethora of Israeli settlements, but the dearth of Palestinian ones. Had Arafat and his fellows in the PA cared about their people, they would have been building settlements in Area A for Palestinian refugees who preferred living in dignity under Palestinian sovereignty rather than wait in a refugee camp till they can go back and be a minority in Israel.

Not every refugee would have chosen that path, but surely there were many who, given the option, would gladly have chosen to get out of the camps. I’m sure that Habitat for Humanity would have been delighted to help build those Palestinian settlements. Instead, the leadership assumed that the refugees should stay in the camps as a weapon against Israel, and the West looked the other way. Few things illustrate the Palestinian and Arab leadership’s irredentist mindset, and their contribution to the suffering of the Palestinian people, than how they treat their own refugees – what Gazan-born Nonie Darwish calls “an Arab-made misery.” If the Palestinian leadership really wanted peace, they’d be resettling refugees right and left in the land they control.

By reading the Israeli settlements the way they do, PCP not only overlooks all the evidence of Palestinian “bad faith” in negotiating a “secure peace,” it demands that Israel make both real and symbolic concessions to these bad faith demands. Consider such “peace gestures” from the point of view of the hard zero-sum players in the Palestinian camp (and others in the region ), which views what Westerner’s consider acts of generosity – admissions of fault, concessions on the ground – as signs of weakness and opportunities for renewed aggression, and one begins to understand why there’s a good deal of hostility in Israel to the one-sided demands the US is putting on them. It’s a recipe not for peace, but for more violence. This strategy doesn’t just threaten Israel, it’s most likely outcome will be bad for anyone, like Friedman, who wants a “secure peace.”

Friedman’s PCP simple-mindedness fisked below.

NB: I’m not defending Netanyahu’s refusal to extend the settlement freeze; I’m criticizing the logic upon which the request – with its centrality and urgency – is based.

Just Knock It Off
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMANPublished: October 19, 2010

Some of Israel’s worst critics are fond of saying that Israel behaves like America’s spoiled child. I’ve always found that analogy excessive. Say what you want about Israel’s obstinacy at times, it remains the only country in the United Nations that another U.N. member, Iran, has openly expressed the hope that it be wiped off the map. And that same country, Iran, is trying to build a nuclear weapon. Israel is the only country I know of in the Middle East that has unilaterally withdrawn from territory conquered in war – in Lebanon and Gaza – only to be greeted with unprovoked rocket attacks in return. Indeed, if you want to talk about spoiled children, there is no group more spoiled by Iran and Syria than Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese – and Hezbollah’s punishment was to be rewarded with thousands more missiles and millions more dollars to do it again. These are stubborn facts.

Of course, one might argue that Hizbullah and Hamas are spoiled by the West, by UNIFIL troops and by the EU, which seems determined to pour money into Gaza and the West Bank no matter what’s being done with it. As Romirowsky puts it, “Being Palestinian means never having to say you’re sorry.” As for Iran and Syria, Obama has spoiled them both by not punishing them for their direct participation in the war against NATO troops in Iraq. (A policy that Mearsheimer was only too happy to support with his assurances that “Iran [was] not at war with us… thankfully.”)

But the key statement in this paragraph is that Israel gave up land – as it did in the Oslo Process and the Lebanon withdrawal, and in every case, found that their concessions brought on not reciprocal concessions, but still more violence. This dynamic, understood, changes the way we should interpret the meaning of paths to peace, none of which will appear in the rest of this article.

And here’s another stubborn fact: Israel today really is behaving like a spoiled child.

Fact? This isn’t even a pre-post-modern use of the term. This is a judgment, and a harsh one at that. Does Friedman really think this is a “fact.” Does he consider his judgments so “objective” (another pre-post-modern term) that they have the status of “fact”? We’ll discuss where the spoiled childishness lies below. For the moment, just note the rhetoric.

Please spare me the nonsense that President Obama is anti-Israel. At a time when the president has made it one of his top priorities to build a global coalition to stop Iran from making a nuclear weapon, he took the very logical view that if he could advance the peace process in the Middle East it would give him much greater leverage to get the Europeans and U.N. behind tougher sanctions on Iran. At the same time, Obama believed – what a majority of Israelis believe – that Israel can’t remain a Jewish democracy in the long run if it continues to control 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank.

This is a good example of the way Friedman depends on conventional “wisdom” without question, assuming that the general consensus of the folks he spends his time with must be accurate. Not much room to dissent here: presumably anyone who disagrees is spouting “nonsense.”

But allow me to politely disagree with several of the arguments he adduces to make his point that Obama is not anti-Israel. First, the idea of linkage, that “solving the Arab-Israeli problem” would somehow influence the Europeans and the UN to fight Iranian nuclear ambitions strikes me as a) a pretty wild Rube-Goldberg machine ; and b) an unbelievably risky gamble. No one’s been able to resolve this matter, not even Clinton with a two-term presidency and a great deal of good will all around. So to think that you can quickly resolve a century-old conflict as a prelude to dealing with an immediate problem with a very short fuse (Iran’s getting the bomb), strikes me as not “very logical” but “very silly.”

Rather, consider what happened to Clinton’s seven-year effort: it blew up in his (and everyone’s) face, and clearly made things worse all around. To think that Obama could actually rush through a “patch-up” job in this conflict and that would somehow convince the Europeans and the UN nations – whose self-interest has not yet gotten them to unite against an Iranian program which will destabilize the entire region, strikes me as folly. And yet, for Friedman, this piece of strategy strikes him as “very logical.” Whose logic? Our Western, positive-sum logic (which doesn’t even work that well with Europeans)? Or their zero-sum, remorseless logic whereby they cannot win if we (Israel, the US, the West) win?

And yet it is precisely this bizarre “logic” that permits Obama to feel that pressuring Israel into initiating and unilateral concessions will bring “peace.” And it’s precisely the failure to understand the players and their motivations, to understand the Palestinian “logic,” that produces the now-predictable response of Palestinian “negotiators” to Israeli concessions – more demands, if not violence. In this Obama pursues a foreign policy within a paradigm much closer to the view of Walt-Mearsheimer than any of his predecessors.

So whether or not Obama doesn’t like Israel – no one there feels the “love” – his foreign policy dealings with her have shown a degree of hostility that no American President since Eisenhower has ever expressed, including a policy of duplicity at the UN. Israel’s ambassador to the UN reported off the record that as soon as Obama became president, even friends moved away: It was open season. Indeed, when it comes to the key dimension of “honor” and “shame,” until he ran into the reality of broad-based American support for Israel, he systematically shamed Israeli and “respected” the Palestinian sensibilities. Which is why, when the Israelis began their settlement freeze on Obama’s demand, the Palestinians not only increased their demands – total settlement freeze along the ’67 borders, or no negotiations – but Obama let them get away with it.

“Nonsense” is a strange word to use in describing the substantive issues involved in assessing the proposition: “Is Obama anti-Israel?” Is he personally anti-Israel or just “objectively” so (as Marx might put it)? There’s obviously plenty of room to discuss here on both points, a case to be made on both sides. So why the summary dismissal? Friedman elaborates his argument:

On top of it all, while pressing Israel to stop expanding settlements for as little as 60 days, Obama ordered his vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright of the Marines, to lead a U.S. team to work with Israel’s military on an unprecedented package of security assistance to enable Israel to maintain its “qualitative edge” over its neighbors. And, for all this, Obama is decried as anti-Israel. What utter nonsense.

One could just as easily explain Obama’s stepped-up technological cooperation between Israel and the US as an offer aimed at getting Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, so hardly clinching proof of his not being anti-Israel. And yet Friedman now feels he’s made a case to call the opposing position “utter nonsense.” Apparently we’re not dealing with reasoned argumentation here; more likely with rhetorical assertion designed to support a statement of faith, a dogma in which one’s opposition is [must be seen to be] at best, silly.

None of this, alas, deals with the real problems, the problems of attitude which have made this conflict so difficult. None of Friedman’s proof’s even begins to address the real question: Is Obama’s embrace of a “let’s all get together and make peace” approach appropriate in 2010? Or is it recklessly foolish, a disaster not only for Israel, but for Europe, for the USA, for the West. For those with an alternative paradigmatic view of this conflict, one with a great deal of empirical support, Obama’s approach to dealing with the Middle East is counter-indicated. It’s a prolongation of a gambit that suits our Western temperaments: “We’ll be nice (show respect, stand down, self-criticize, make concessions); and you’ll reciprocate.”

It’s a fine gambit, and works more often than not. But every once in a while, it runs up against a different logic: that of Arab/Muslim political culture. It’s the one Israel has run up against now three major times, during the Oslo Peace Process 1993-2000, leaving Lebanon in 2000, and leaving Gaza in 2005. At least in this conflict, concessions actually provoke violence. Israeli concessions, at this point, are guaranteed to produce the opposite result. Every time the US forces Israel into a concession, it’s a message to their enemies that Israel is getting weaker, and they have no incentive to make peace. The only way out of the impasse is acknowledge the failure of this approach, at least under current circumstances.

Of course, realizing the problem only creates a more painful one: there is no “peace now” via Israeli concessions. The bigger they are – back to ’67 borders (i.e., a divided Jerusalem including giving up the Jewish quarter in the Old City) – the more aggression they will invite. The notion that anyone from the outside can step in and discourage that dynamic with “boots on the ground” is seriously taxing the reality principle.

What Obama won’t do, the only move that serious thinking and the experience of the 10-month settlement freeze that brought on a ten-month negotiating freeze from the Palestinians, would recommend, is put the pressure on the Palestinians. After all, why should they demand the settlement freeze? They had it and blew it (by Friedman’s/Obama’s/J-Street’s very own logic). Why should Obama put up with such nonsense? They say, “we have to say no sometime.” Obama can say, “Now’s not the time to say no.”

But Friedman seems oblivious to these issues (despite his mention of the phenomenon in his opening paragraph). For him, Israel’s resistance is literally incomprehensible.

Given what Obama has done, and is trying to do, it is hardly an act of hostility for him to ask Israel to continue its now-expired 10-month partial moratorium on settlement-building in the West Bank in order to take away any excuse from the Palestinians to avoid peace talks.

That’s the logic? Israel continues the settlement freeze to take away the excuses of the Palestinians to avoid peace talks? Why do the Palestinians want to avoid peace talks? Didn’t Obama claim – to widespread approval in the Arab and Muslim world – that their suffering was “intolerable “? Aren’t they looking for peace? And if they’re not, then what’s the meaning for them of this continued Israeli concession? Tell me there’s more to this than a way to “take away” an “excuse”.

First – I know this is a crazy, radical idea – when America asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security but would actually enhance it, there is only one right answer: “Yes.”

It’s not a crazy radical idea (even if it is an assumption of client-patron state that may be inappropriate for an ally like Israel), but it is, from other perspectives, a silly and even dangerous idea.

Let’s rephrase it from a slightly less giddy and egocentric perspective: When America asks Israel to do something that may well touch on its vital security, and threatens to undermine it further, Israel has a right to say, “Is there anything in this but promises that your logic will work on the Palestinians? Why aren’t you calling the Palestinians on their phony excuses, which are many and thoroughly inconsistent? Why are the Palestinians asked to pay no price for having spent the first ten months of freeze refusing to negotiate? What concession have you asked from them (besides negotiating face to face)? And why should we believe that if we make this concession, and they don’t reciprocate, you will make them pay in any way for their recalcitrance?”

It is a measure of how spoiled Israel has become that after billions and billions of dollars in U.S. aid and 300,000 settlers already ensconced in the West Bank, Israel feels no compunction about spurning an American request for a longer settlement freeze – the only purpose of which is to help the United States help Israel reach a secure peace with the Palestinians.

Now we get breathtakingly superficial. I won’t descend to Friedman’s rhetorical lows in characterizing this statement, but it is something of a jaw-dropper. Anyone who follows Palestinian culture, it’s state-encouraged death cults, its drumbeat of genocidal hatreds, it’s remorseless zero-sum logic in which the enemy, especially one so hated as the Israelis, must lose in order for them to win, understands that “a secure peace” with the Palestinians is not at all “just around the corner, if only the Israelis would cooperate.”

Indeed, if anything, this statement makes Friedman sound like the spoiled child here: “I want peace now! I know how to get it, really I do. So why won’t you just listen to me. I have the big toys and the charge cards, so step in line buddy. I’m in a hurry, can’t you see?”

Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

How about, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will help things; on the contrary, we think they’ll make things worse. But if you think it will, so let’s test it. And if the Palestinians behave as we suspect – more temporizing, continued demonizing, behind the scenes maneuvering to get everything and give nothing – then can we count on you to blow the whistle on them? On those grounds, this one’s for you.”

Israel’s fundamental problem in all these matters is they can only lose these kinds of exchanges because of the West’s overwhelming reluctance to confront the Palestinians. On the contrary, as with Arafat’s turn to violence in late September 2000, they’d sooner blame Israel – Sharon provoked them by visiting the Temple Mount – than hold the Palestinians to minimal standards.

Yes, I know, Netanyahu says that if he did that then the far right-wingers in his cabinet would walk out. He knows he can’t make peace with some of the lunatics in his cabinet, but he tells the U.S. that he only wants to blow up his cabinet once – for a deal. But we will never get to that stage if he doesn’t blow it up now and construct a centrist coalition that can negotiate a deal.

More breathtaking. Friedman’s supposed to know something about the Middle East and its dynamics: he coined the term “Hama Rules ” to describe how ruthless dictators will kill tens of thousands of their own people to assure their control. Granted he’s been forgetting more lately than he ever knew, and under the influence of the very (dangerously outdated) intellectual fashions that he shares with Obama. But the idea that for this minor issue – extending the settlement freeze for two months – it’s worth blowing up the Israeli cabinet is nothing short of reckless, not only because it would create a crisis whose resolution is unpredictable (if anything likely to lead to a less cooperative cabinet, rather than Friedman’s “centrist coalition”), but it would immensely encourage the hardliners among the Palestinians who would view this crisis as proof that Israel has to pay for their arbitrary demands. How sloppy can you get in pursuit of “peace now“?

But there’s something deeply troubling in the superficiality of Friedman’s scenario here. I actually believe that he – and many people who find themselves sympathizing with J-Street – actually think that their sole and sincere purpose is to “reach a secure peace with the Palestinians.” It’s why they can, in all good conscience, make these demands, and why Israeli resistance doesn’t set of alarm bells about the wisdom of their policies, but rather elicits their exasperation. “Damn it man, can’t you see this is for your own good!”

And yet, let’s rewrite the proposition from the perspective of the JHSP, of a zero-sum Palestinian playbook: “But we will never get to that stage [real negotiations] if Netanyahu does blow up his cabinet now over something as minor as a settlement freeze, and signals to the Palestinians that they can bring down Israeli cabinets (through the American presidency) with their petulant demands.

Second, I have no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel. In fact, when you go back and look at what Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor, offered Abbas – a real two-state compromise, including a deal on Jerusalem – and you think that Abbas spurned that offer, and you think that Netanyahu already gave Abbas a 10-month settlement freeze and Abbas only entered serious talks in the ninth month, you have to wonder how committed he is.

A breath of sanity. Precisely.

Now rather than offer this analysis as a toss-off at the end of the piece, another clearing of the throat before landing on the other side, Friedman would have done a great deal more for his readers if he had bothered to unpack why Abbas spurned Olmert’s offer.

The forces militating against a “secure peace with Israel” in Palestinian culture are overwhelming, and scarcely mentioned in the Western press, where settlements dominate the airwaves, while such minor matters as genocidal incitement to hatred, hard zero-sum politics, and irredentist public opinion go unmentioned.

Indeed, a NYT reporter can, with complete immunity, quote a Sheikh calling for genocide against the Jews (from the pulpit, on TV), and leave out the genocidal part … in an article on incitement. And this unconscionable piece of journalism right at the beginning of the Oslo War (October 2000), set the pattern until this day. Most Westerners, especially those with emotional commitments to PCP have no idea how vicious the public discourse in the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim public sphere is about Israel and the Jews. And if informed, like Jennie Tonge , Cherie Blair, and her sister Lauren Booth, they assume it must be Israel’s fault.

Of course, all these observations about the dominance of the war camp in Palestinian circles, amply demonstrated by the consistent, decades-long behavior of the Palestinians, whether “secular” (Fatah, PA) or “religious” (Hamas, Islamic Jihad), are profoundly upsetting to the good-willed Westerner. We don’t want to believe that this problem has no immediate solution, that being nice and making concessions and negotiating won’t lead to peace. Thus these anomalous “facts on the ground” disturb not only our cognitive “positive-sum” world, they bring with them emotionally taxing realizations as well. Not only might there be no “peace now,” but that single-minded pursuit of that “peace now” may actually (predictably) backfire.

But the fact is that the team of Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have built a government that is the best the Palestinians have ever had, and, more importantly, a Palestinian security apparatus that the Israeli military respects and is acting as a real partner.

This is truly remarkable writing. Again with “the fact” when it’s an opinion. From the Western point of view, Abbas and Fayyad have done good things. Of course, given the extremely low level of performance in this sense on the part of all previous Palestinian governments (from the “states-within-a-state in Jordan and Lebanon, to the PA in Area A), Fayyad and Abbas don’t have much competition in the “best Palestinian government ever” category.

But the real problem is how little that accomplishment seems to count with his own people and his ability to make peace. Palestinians – at least the ones who carry weight in the public sphere – judge Abbas not by our standards – namely he’s made the economic situation so much better for them that they’d support his efforts to secure such advantages through making peace – but by the standards of the “street,” where every concession he makes means that he’s weak, giving in to humiliating demands from the West, that he’s a puppet. Certainly not a man. It is precisely this “street” that Abbas had in mind when he turned Obama’s demand that Israel freeze settlements into a refusal to negotiate. That may have messed up Obama, but it made him (briefly) look like a man to his people.

As for the security apparatus that Friedman celebrates, it’s performed well from the Israeli point of view, even if it is brutal beyond any progressive’s wildest dreams. But it’s hardly a “sure thing.” Israel already had the experience of Palestinian colleagues in security turning on them. No honest person can guarantee that this security force will stand by its commitments and not, at the sight, for example of another Pallywood production like Muhammad al Durah, go ballistic and turn on the Israelis. This is a rather tenuous branch on which to put so much weight.

Given this, Israel has an overwhelming interest to really test – that is all we can ask – whether this Palestinian leadership is ready for a fair and mutually secure two-state solution.

Okay, Friedman agrees that the Palestinian leadership should be tested in their commitment to a fair and mutually secure two-state solution. For those of us familiar with the workings of JHSP dynamics, this is clearly not the case. But let’s say it’s important to test. Surely there are many tests we could devise that wouldn’t involve further risk-taking and further signals of weakness if indeed Palestinians are not ready.

How about asking them to acknowledge the simple, and obvious, but according to the expectations of the JHSP unacceptable, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state ? That would seem, by the standards of progressive values that the Palestinians themselves invoke – the right to national self-determination – a fairly straightforward recognition. After all, the Palestinians plan to be not only a Muslim state, but a Judenrein one at that. And of course, their reaction is so violently opposed to such a minor concession, that people have already started backing off the demand. No one draws the obvious conclusion: the Palestinians will never recognize an autonomous state run by dhimmi in Dar al Islam. That would mean dealing with the emotional anxieties that come with understanding the JHSP.

But let’s humor the Americans, with their Walts and Mearsheimers and Friedmans and Kristofs and J-Streets and Rabbis for Human Rights, and set up the test the way they want it set up. After all, it’s not the greatest risk the Israelis have been asked to make. What the hell. But…What happens if the Palestinians fail? What price do they pay?

Or do we, as we have for the past decade (!), continue to look the other way because we want to “keep the peace process alive”? In which case, I think it’s fair to say, the Israelis have a right to show reluctance.

That test is something the U.S. should not have to beg or bribe Israel to generate. This moment is not about Obama. He’s doing his job. It is about whether the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are up to theirs. Abbas is weak and acts weaker. Netanyahu is strong and acts weak. It is time for both to step it up. And it is time for all the outsiders who spoil them to find another hobby.

What an interesting wrap up. One that, despite the overwhelming thrust of the article chiding the childish Israelis, reveals the pervasive flaws in the “very logical” argument. Abbas is weak because he’s caught between the world of Palestinian irredentist logic and that of Western positive-sum logic. If he actually behaves responsibly he’s the Palestinian equivalent of an “Oreo,” he can strengthen his Palestinian bona fides only by moves that will undermine the peace process.

The idea that the solution is to have Bibi use his alleged “strength” to make concessions to the weak Abbas (to “shore him up”), is dubious to say the least. For some of us, this is a really silly suggestion. But Friedman’s tone and history suggest that he’s not silly, and not ignorant, even if he misuses the very terms he’s coined to bridge the moral gap between Arab and Israeli politics. No, it looks like its a kind of un-self-critical arrogance that leads Friedman to his conclusions, his tone, and, alas, his deep, dangerous, superficiality.

Maybe spoiler outsiders who need to find another hobby might include Mr. Friedman.

Obama would be better served by someone who has something new to say, rather than yet another “yes man.”

Tom, maybe you can help Obama show more assertiveness with the spoiled children on the Palestinian side. How about a series of columns entitled, “Just Knock it off!” addressed to them. As an exercise, think in terms of the kinds of childish attitudes they have, attitudes that do much to spread violence and hatred in this flat, overcrowded, hot planet. What a refreshing use of your exceptional soapbox to promote a sane world in the 21st century.

Richard Landes: Tom Friedman and the Deep Superficiality of Western Thinking about the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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Richard Landes

Richard Allen Landes is an American historian and author, specializing in Millennialism. He retired from teaching history at Boston University in the Spring of 2015. He currently serves as the Chair of the Council of Scholars at SPME.

His work focuses on the role of religion in shaping and transforming the relationships between elites and commoners in various cultures. He has coined the expression "demotic religiosity," an orientation that prizes 1) equality before the law, 2) dignity of manual labor, 3) access to sacred texts and divinity for all believers, and 4) a prizing of moral integrity over social honor. Trained as a medievalist, his early work focused on the period around 1000 CE, a moment, in his opinion, of both cultural mutation (origins of the modern West), and intense apocalyptic and millennial expectations.

From 1995-2004, he directed the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University which held annual conferences and published an online journal, Journal of Millennial Studies. This involvement refocused his work on millennialism the world over and in different time periods, and has resulted in the Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, (Berkshire Reference Works; Routledge, NY, 2000); Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (Oxford U. Press, 2011), and The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred-Year Retrospective on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (NYU Press, 2011).

His work on the apocalyptic currents that built up during the approach to 2000 has led him to focus on Global Jihad as an apocalyptic millennial movement, whose relationship to the internet may parallel that of Protestantism to printing, and whose active cataclysmic apocalyptic scenario (Destroy the world to save it), makes it potentially one of the most dangerous apocalyptic movements on record.

In addition to his courses on medieval history, he offered courses on

Europe and the Millennium,

Communications Revolutions from Language to Cyberspace

Honor-shame culture Middle Ages, Middle East

The Biblical origins of the Democracy.

In 2011, he is a fellow at the International Consortium on Research in the Humanities at Alexander University, Erlangen, Germany. There he is working on the study with which his medieval work first began, the history of the “sabbatical millennium” with its expectation of the messianic kingdom in the year 6000 from the creation of the world: While God Tarried: Demotic Millennialism from Jesus to the Peace of God, 33-1033.

In 2005 he launched a media-oversight project called The Second Draft in order to look at what the news media calls their “first draft of history.” Since January 2005 he has been blogging at The Augean Stables, a name chosen to describe the current condition of the Mainstream News Media (MSNM) in the West.

As a result of this work on the MSNM, he has come to understand the role of cognitive warfare in the campaign of apocalyptic Jihad against the West in the 21st century, and the abysmal record of the West in defending itself in this critical theater of War. He plans a book addressing these issues tentatively entitled They’re so Smart cause We’re so Stupid: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century. 


  • Landes, Richard A.; Head, Thomas J. (eds.) (1987). Essays on the Peace of God : the church and the people in eleventh-century France. Waterloo, Ontario: Waterloo University. OCLC18039359.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Paupert, Catherine (trans.) (1991). Naissance d'Apôtre: Les origines de la Vita prolixior de Saint Martial de Limoges au XIe siècle. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. 9782503500454.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Head, Thomas J. (eds.) (1992). The Peace of God: social violence and religious response in France around the year 1000. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. ISBN 080142741X.
  • Landes, Richard A. (1995). Relics, apocalypse, and the deceits of history: Ademar of Chabannes, 989-1034. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674755308.
  • Landes, Richard A. (ed.) (2000). Encyclopedia of millennialism and millennial movements. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415922461.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Van Meter, David C.; Gow, Andrew Sydenham Farrar (2003). The apocalyptic year 1000: religious expectation and social change, 950-1050. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195111915.
  • Landes, Richard A. (2011). Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Katz, Stephen (eds.). The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred Year Retrospective on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. New York: New York University Press.

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