Following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at the United States Congress, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman warned Wednesday that "Israelis and Palestinians are right up there with pre-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia."
Friedman described both governments as being "ossified, unimaginative and oxygen-deprived", adding sarcastically: "Is there anything less relevant than the prime minister of Israel going to the US Congress for applause and the leader of the Palestinians going to the UN — instead of to each other?"
According to the senior columnist, both countries could learn something from Tahrir Square. "To the Palestinians I would say: You believe the Israelis are stiffing you because they think they have you in box. If you resort to violence, they will brand you terrorists. And if you don’t resort to violence, the Israelis will just pocket the peace and quiet and build more settlements. Your dilemma is how to move Israel in a way that won’t blow up in your face or require total surrender."
Friedman has a tip for him too. PM Netanyahu (Photo: Reuters)
Friedman believes that one has to "start with the iron law of Israeli-Arab peace: whichever party has the Israeli silent majority on its side wins. Anwar Sadat brought the Israeli majority over to his side when he went to Israel, and he got everything he wanted. Yasser Arafat momentarily did the same with the Oslo peace accords."
"How could Palestinians do that again today? I can tell you how not to do it. Having the UN General Assembly pass a resolution recognizing an independent Palestinian state will only rally Israelis around Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, giving him another excuse not to talk," he stated.
'Peace Day' every Friday
Friedman suggested a Palestinian alternative to Tahrir Square. "Announce that every Friday from today forward will be 'Peace Day,' and have thousands of West Bank Palestinians march nonviolently to Jerusalem, carrying two things — an olive branch in one hand and a sign in Hebrew and Arabic in the other."
"It would become a global news event. Every network in the world would be there," he wrote.
Friedman continues: "Crazy, I know. Bibi is reading this and laughing: 'The Palestinians will never do that. They could never get Hamas to adopt nonviolence. It’s not who the Palestinians are.' That is exactly what Mubarak said about the Egyptian people: 'They are not capable of being anything but what they are: docile and willing to eat whatever low expectations I feed them.' But then Egyptians surprised him. How about you, Palestinians, especially Hamas? Do you have any surprise in you? Is Bibi right about you, or not?"
The controversial columnist even has a tip for Israel. "As for Bibi, his Tahrir lesson is obvious: Sir, you are well on your way to becoming the Hosni Mubarak of the peace process. The time to make big decisions in life is when you have all the leverage on your side. For 30 years, Mubarak had all the leverage on his side to gradually move Egypt toward democracy — and he never used it. Then, when Mubarak’s people rose up, he tried to do it all in six days. But it was too late. No one believed him. So his tenure ended in ruin."
Mubarak had all the leverage. Tahrir Square (Photo: AFP)
Friedman made it clear that Israel today still has "enormous leverage" both militarily and economically, as well as having the US on its side.
"If Netanyahu actually put a credible, specific two-state peace map on the table — not just the same old vague promises about 'painful compromises' — he could get the Americans and Europeans to toss in anything Israel wanted, including the newest weapons, NATO membership, maybe even European Union membership," he stated.
"It may be that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are incapable of surprising anyone anymore, in which case the logic on the ground will prevail: Israel will gradually absorb the whole West Bank, so, together with Israel proper, a Jewish minority will be ruling over an Arab majority."
"Israel’s enemies will refer to it as 'the Jewish apartheid state.' America, Israel’s only true friend, will find itself having to defend an Israel whose policies it does not believe in and whose leaders it does not respect — and the tensions between the US and Israel displayed in Washington last week will seem quaint by comparison," he concluded.
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