More Times Tomfoolery
by Andrea Levin
The New York Times' Tom Friedman, like his paper, has had a decidedly ambivalent relationship with the State of Israel. The Times editorialized against the creation of Israel, then regularly urged Israel to risk its national well-being in trusting Arab intentions and avoiding self-defense measures. When, for example, Israel acted in 1981 to remove the Iraqi nuclear threat by surgically bombing the Osirak reactor, the Times blasted the nation for its "inexcusable and shortsighted aggression."
In the last decade, Times editorialists and Friedman have exhorted Israel to pursue the Oslo process, urging concessions to an accommodation with Arafat. This was so throughout the 1990's despite pervasive hatemongering in Palestinian schools, mosques and media (which the Times has consistently neglected to report), intensifying violence against Israeli civilians and wanton Palestinian violation of both the letter and spirit of the agreements. Only as the political and human wreckage has mounted, has Friedman taken some notice of the true obstacles to peace.
In a half-turnabout, he now faults the Arab side for its self-defeating choices, while continuing in mindless even-handedness to vilify Israel for not eliminating settlements, which he deems equally the root of the present disaster. The fact that Israel under Ehud Barak offered sweeping concessions on settlements at Camp David/Taba, only to have the proposals kicked aside by the Palestinians, softens Friedman's indictments not at all.
Now comes the Saudi proposal, with Friedman and the Times at center-stage. The Times writer relates in a February 17th column that while dining with Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud recently, he urged the Arab leader to recognize Israel in return for "total withdrawal by Israel to the June 4, 1967 lines." Friedman advised "full diplomatic relations, normalized trade and security guarantees. Full withdrawal, in accord with U.N. Resolution 242, for full peace between Israel and the entire Arab world." To Friedman's delight, Abdullah declared he had precisely such a proposal stashed in his "drawer" in the form of a "speech."
The minor matter of Friedman's falsely characterizing UN Resolution 242, which does not, in fact, call for Israel's "full withdrawal" to the June 4, 1967 lines, in no way inhibited the Times full-tilt campaign to promote its plan. (The Times has a chronic problem with 242, repeatedly having to correct inaccurate accounts of the text and failing to make clear that the resolution was deliberately left vague by its authors to provide for negotiated adjustments in the borders and to avoid forcing Israel back to the indefensible pre-1967 armistice lines.)
Additionally, Friedman's eagerness to imagine normalized relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors begs the question of what relations are among Middle East states. What is normal? Egypt has fought border wars with Libya and a war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Iraq fought an eight-year war with Iran, invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia. Syria has invaded Jordan and presently occupies Lebanon.
Nevertheless, the newspaper promptly began to editorialize and report extensively and enthusiastically on the Friedman-Saudi plan. A February 21st editorial effused that talk of "peace is again in the air" and no discussions were "more serious" than those with Abdullah, who indicated "his country is finally ready to lead the Arab world to normal relations with Israel." The Times was especially elated that Abdullah would permit Jews sovereignty at the Western Wall and in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and seemed to assume Israelis too would be supremely grateful for such permission from the potentates of Arabia.
On February 28, the editors urged Prime Minister Sharon to understand that Israel would have no freedom from violence without "a clear vision of eventual peace" along the lines the Saudis were indicating. The Times advised Sharon to evacuate settlements.
On March 3, a front-page story by Serge Schmemann, nearly 5,000 words long, traced the Friedman-Saudi plan's evolution into a subject of American and Middle East policy focus, noting incidentally that the core issue of Arab normalization of relations with Israel had been omitted in a speech by the Saudi ambassador that referred to Abdullah's plan.
Friedman did not touch on the possible drift away from recognizing Israel's legitimacy in his March 10th column but reiterated his equal blame of Hamas which has murdered hundreds of Israelis, including "settlers," and the settlers themselves.
But what Friedman and the Times have been purveying entails a much broader distortion of basic truths. At Camp David and Taba, the Palestinians, in their rejection of Israeli territorial concessions involving virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, with compensation for the rest, and in their insistence on a Palestinian right of return, merely confirmed the messages of their schools, mosques and media - that their goal is not boundaries with Israel but replacement of Israel. To ignore that message, to pretend that peace is near if only Israel adjusts its borders in return for Arab "guarantees," is entirely and deplorably consistent with the newspapers record of editorial disregard for fact - and Israel's safety.
Andres Levin in President of CAMERA, and is the Eye-on-the-Media columnist for the Jerusalem Post.
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