Friedman provides ‘marriage counseling’ for U.S., Israel


Thomas Friedman offered some "free marriage counseling" to the United States and Israel in the New York Times over the weekend. First, for Israel:

Here’s what Israelis need to understand: President Obama is not some outlier when it comes to Israel. His call for a settlements freeze reflects attitudes that have been building in America for a long time. For the last 40 years, a succession of Israeli governments has misled, manipulated or persuaded naïve U.S. presidents that since Israel was negotiating to give up significant territory, there was no need to fight over “insignificant” settlements on some territory. Behind this charade, Israeli settlers bit off more and more of the West Bank, creating a huge moral, security and economic burden for Israel and its friends. …

So if Mr. Obama has bluntly pressed for a settlements freeze, he is, in fact, reflecting a broad sentiment in Congress, the Pentagon and among many Americans, Jews included. Haaretz quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as calling two Obama aides pushing the freeze “self-hating Jews.” Bibi’s spokesman denies he said that. I hope he didn’t. When you have to trot that one out, you’re really, really out of ammo.

Then, he provides some "style points" Obama might want to keep in mind:

One is: Don’t get into the business of apportioning historical blame for this conflict, which his Cairo speech veered into. Palestinians don’t believe they are to blame for this problem; neither do Israelis. A religious Israeli professor friend of mine said it well: “People will give a lot if they think they are not guilty. My mother says to me: ‘Look, I am ready to give them Jerusalem, but don’t tell me that I started it.’ ”

The other point is: Israel has real enemies. Iran’s president says the Holocaust is a myth, that Israel should be wiped away. And, he’s trying to build a nuclear bomb. Israel unilaterally withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza. Its leaving was messy, but it got out. And the first thing it got back was rockets. Israelis are like most people; they listen through their stomachs. That is, connect with them on a gut level that says you understand where they live, and you can take them anywhere. Don’t connect on a gut level, and you can’t take them anywhere.

Bottom line: Israelis need to understand this is not the Bush administration anymore, where they had the run of the White House; they have a real problem with America on settlements. Mr. Obama needs to understand that on Arab-Israel affairs, the less you say and the more you do, the better off you are. Every word in this conflict has its own history. Get the deal done — a settlement moratorium for some normalization — and that breakthrough will do the talking.


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