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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Thomas Friedman's "The Ballgame and the Sideshow": Both Right and Wrong

In an op-ed in today's New York Times entitled "The Ballgame and the Sideshow" (, Thomas Friedman concludes:

"Palestinians building real institutions from the ground up and getting Israel to cede to them real authority — is the ballgame. Make it work across the West Bank and find a way to transfer it to Gaza (how about reopening the Israel-Gaza border and letting the new Palestinian N.S.F. control the passages to Israel?) and a two-state solution is possible. Let it fail, and we’ll have endless conflict. Everything else is just a sideshow."

"Everything else is just a sideshow"? Not by a long shot.

Not when there is a dangerously narcissistic, out of control, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, empowered by Obama, willing to sacrifice lives in order to establish his place as the Middle East's preeminent power broker.

Not when Iran is hell-bent on achieving a nuclear weapons capability and Obama has demonstrated to the world that he is impotent to stop Ahmadinejad.

But did you notice that while the Turks were busy demonstrating in Istanbul in the thousands, the West Bank remained quiet? Why? Because the Palestinians living in the West Bank value their 8% GDP growth and freedom of movement and are scared to death that Hamas will again raise its ugly head in Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho, Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilyah and Tulkarm.

Sure there was the obligatory demonstration in Bil'in with the participation of activist pilgrims from overseas. However, hosting of these activists has become something of a cottage industry, and Bil'in's villagers could hardly go without producing the weekly show. (Long gone are the activists painted blue to conjure images of the innocent natives from "Avatar", and instead we were presented with a wonderfully constructed stage prop modeled after one of the Gaza flotilla's ships.)

Friedman correctly notes the dramatic reduction in the number of West Bank checkpoints. But that's not the entire story. Of far greater importance is the ease with which the overwhelming majority of Palestinians can pass through these checkpoints, which underlies the 8% GDP growth of the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas and Fayyad are treading a delicate line, which requires periodic theatrical denunciations of Israel following, for example, the Gaza flotilla PR show, but the bottom line is that they are the primary beneficiaries of Israel's efforts to control Hamas radicalism. Abbas and Fayyad must continue playing the game; however, imbued with realism, they know the boundaries of the playing field and where their self-interests lie.

Peace is possible with Abbas and Fayyad, if not torpedoed by Erdogan and his new found friend, Ahmadinejad, and if Obama does not cut the legs out from under Israel. Abbas and Fayyad cannot permit themselves to make demands upon Israel any smaller than those being made by a naive American president.


  1. It occurs to me that Ahmadinejad and Erdogan may just find themselves in such a demented contest for hegemony that they become each others' enemy and lose sight of Israel. Doubtful they can join forces. It is like two ruthless, primping egotists fighting over one mirror. Hopefully, the mirror shatters and both end up with bloody wrists.

  2. Arabs, Persians and Turks, still mired in historic and religious enmity, will indeed be battling for Middle East hegemony for many years to come, and all alliances, such as that between Erdogan and Ahmadinejad, will be short lived.