Every time Thomas Friedman goes to the Arab world or the Middle East, I hold my breath. He has an uncanny knack for quoting unnamed, faceless Natives who sound a lot like dedicated readers of the Economist…or maybe of his columns and books. Many people (and most reporters) travel in order to meet new and different slices of the human spectrum and encounter fresh ways of viewing the world. For Friedman, travel seems to be an act of finding confirmation for his already well-formed prejudices.
I saw Alex’s post yesterday and was intrigued enough to break my cultivated habit of studiously trying to avoid Friedman; in a moment of weakness, I went and read his latest offering. I’ll ignore his economic nostrums. What I am interested in is the question of how Palestinians and their concerns are (mis)represented by Zionist commentators in the mainstream media, so the following chestnut in particular caught my eye:
For those Arabs who have fallen in love with the idea of Palestinians as permanent victims, forever engaged in a heroic “armed struggle” to recover Palestine and Arab dignity, Fayyad’s methodical state-building is inauthentic. Some Arabs — shamefully — dump on it, and only the United Arab Emirates has offered real financial help.
The supreme irony that a Zionist, of all people, would try to characterize Palestinians as viewing themselves as ‘permanent victims’ aside, I am not sure who these Arabs Friedman is speaking about actually are. And he doesn’t specify. Like unicorns and three-dollar bills, I think they probably don’t exist–at least outside of his head.
What does exist, however, is a caricature of a Palestinian position, one which seeks to at once denigrate and belittle Palestinian grievances, both historic and also very contemporary. The honest truth is that the Palestinian struggle in 2010 is less about getting back homes in Jaffa, Lydd, Ramle, Haifa and Akka, and more about getting medicine and cement into Gaza and stopping land-theft and settler lawlessness in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
(Also noteworthy is another Zionist trope: reference–sometimes ressentiment-laced–to the tremendous wealth of Gulf oil-tacracies and disappointment that these regimes aren’t spending more of their money on solving problems Israel has helped create. How about Israel offering some economic help? I hear it’s doing pretty well financially itself. But I digress.)
Caricaturing a Palestinian position allows Friedman to set up Fayyad as the Good Arab, unjustly criticized for embracing a bootstraps-based ideology which would have warmed the cockles of Emerson’s heart. In so doing, Friedman avoids meatier issues that some Palestinians have with Fayyad–his position in a PA whose elected term in office has expired, for example, or the charge that his American-trained security force, which Friedman and many others love to love, represents an Israeli outsourcing of Occupation work–and a ruthless one at that.
The real problem for Fayyad and Abbas is that they have sought to toe the American line and don’t have a lot to show for it in terms of achieving their stated aim of a two-state solution. There is a bogus settlement freeze and Avigdor Lieberman’s recent announcement that there will be no Palestinian state for the next two years. (Guess who’s hoping Obama loses in 2012?). And, after all, it’s an open secret that Bibi Netanyahu said one thing about believing in a two-state solution at Bar Ilan, but told his dad something quite different. Obama is eager for a kiss-and-make-up session with Netanyahu to boot, something which would have already have happened had the Flotilla temporarily embargoed it. With little significant to show for following American and Israeli orders, Abbas and Fayyad look like American and Israeli lackeys.
That’s what’s inauthentic.