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The Continuing Bad Advice of Thomas Friedman: Bad for the United States and for Israel

On Christmas Day, Tom Friedman gave his readers what may possibly be his worst columns ever (having written so many bad columns, this is of course a judgment call). Here he joins the less influential John B. Judis of The New Republic in defending the status of Chuck Hagel as the leading nominee for the position of secretary of Defense.

Like Judis, Friedman argues that it is precisely because Hagel's views are not “mainstream” that he would be the perfect secretary of Defense. He is upset that Hagel has been “smeared as an Israel-hater at best and an anti-Semite at worst.” He buys the line of the Obama administration that Hagel is “committed to Israel’s survival” but is to be praised because he, like Friedman himself, knows what is best for Israel -- a besieged nation trying to defend its right to exist in a world composed of implacable enemies. Thus, Friedman writes, Hagel is to be praised for arguing that favoring Israel’s survival does not mean “going along with Israel’s self-destructive drift into settling the West Bank and obviating a two-state solution.”

Let us pause to dissect the above paragraph. Israel, in Friedman’s eyes, is the nation that is doing all it can to stop a two-state solution.

This, of course, is his first major error. Prime Minister Netanyahu has reversed the course of previous Israeli leaders in publicly supporting that goal. What really irks Friedman, however, is Netanyahu’s clear-sighted realization that the Palestinian leadership has been consistently intransigent from 1948 on in proclaiming its lifelong opposition to any agreement that recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. In the eyes of its leaders, from those of Fatah to the so-called worse extremists of Hamas, all of Israel is a settlement that must eventually return to Palestinian Arab control. A one-state solution, with an Arab majority eliminating a Jewish nation and creating a subordinate Jewish population.

As David Horovitz explains today in The Times of Israel:

Far from seeking to avoid talks with Abbas [another Friedman charge] Netanyahu has repeatedly shown a desire to re-engage -- and … this is recognized everywhere from Amman to Washington. The problem isn’t Netanyahu, it’s Abbas …The PA president wants a state all right, but he doesn’t want to make peace with Israel -- hence his material breach of the bilateral process and his scamper to endorsement by the UN General Assembly.

Horovitz acknowledges that the announcement of the new settlements in the E1 corridor is a “unilateral Israeli response” to Abbas’ policy, and that Israel needs to show “it does not accept the purported new ‘legitimacy’ of ‘Palestine’ and the consequent asserted international legal designation of the West Bank as occupied Palestinian territory -- and will not be deterred from taking actions to underline its claims to that land.”

He notes, as does the prime minister’s office, that even in the left’s much heralded citation of Ehud Olmert’s 2008 map for Abbas of West Bank territory that Israel would retain -- a map that supposedly was the most magnanimous offer by an Israeli prime minister to Abbas, and which the PA leader rejected -- “Israel would retain” that portion of land for itself. As Horovitz writes: “Gaza and the West Bank are 50 miles apart, and that’s no bar to a two-state solution,” and in the E1 corridor, “overpasses, underpasses and bypasses can maintain Palestinian contiguity.”

Mr. Friedman should also take a look at Alan Dershowitz’s important column: “Hagel: The Wrong Man.” We must pause to note that Professor Dershowitz met with the president in the Oval Office before the election, and came out proclaiming the president’s commitment to Israel and to stopping a nuclear Iran -- and publicly endorsed him. Now I wonder if he is having second thoughts about that decision, given that he is saying in effect that in supporting Hagel, Obama is making the wrong choice. He writes:

Were Chuck Hagel to be nominated as secretary of defense, the Iranian mullahs would interpret President Obama’s decision as a signal that the military option was now, effectively, off the table. It would encourage them to proceed with their development of nuclear weapons without fear of an attack from the United States. It would tell them that if they can endure the pain of sanctions and continue the charade of negotiations, they will ultimately be allowed to win the prize of a deliverable nuclear bomb.

Hagel’s nomination would also validate the fears of Israeli leaders who have never really believed that the United States would attack Iran’s nuclear program even if that were the only way to stop it. It would make an Israeli military attack more likely.

Hagel’s position, he argues, is “the exact opposite” of that which the president says is his announced policy. Dershowitz reasonably asserts that putting a man in the Cabinet as head of the Defense Department who is against the proclaimed administration policy is a disaster in the making. (Remember: Dershowitz is taking Obama at face value, unlike many of this column’s readers, who believe the president does not actually support the kind of policy favored by Alan Dershowitz.)