Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Read Tom Friedman's column on the Turkish-Israeli impasse

Tom Friedman wrote the most insightful column about this situation that I've seen so far. Because I'm on the West Coast, and given the way the NYtimes moderates comment threads, I usually have to post a comment before seeing any others. Hence this response:

I'm writing this before any comments have been posted. But I can tell you what you're going to see: hundreds of foaming-at-the-mouth denunciations of Israel as the reincarnated Third Reich, along with dozens of posts denouncing the spawn-o'-Satan Palestinians--and which staunchly defend anything Israel does.

What most of these posts will share is a failure to read Mr. Friedman's both knowledgeable and sensible assessment and recommendation: that both Israel and Turkey have painted themselves into a corner, and probably only America has a prayer of un-painting them.

After all, while Turkey falls far short of Western democratic standards, compared to the Muslim governments from Morocco to Pakistan, well, Turkey is Sweden.

Likewise, while Israel can act like a pit bull, it too is a democracy, and those are few and far between in that neighborhood.

And I'll add that anyone--anyone--who sees this as a black and white situation between Good guys and Bad guys is delusional. Such zealots have nothing to contribute to solving this extraordinarily difficult situation. They're the kind of "friend" of their side who's worse than an enemy.

Because face it: neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are about to fold their tents and steal away into the night. Moreover, no solution will avoid real, heartwrenching pain for both sides.

It would help if everyone involved could have their memories wiped. History is not our friend in this situation. Historical claims and historical grievances are piled so high on both sides that it's nearly impossible to see over them.

And don't accuse me of moral equivalence. I don't claim that the opposing claims are equal--doing so is like trying to slice a pie for warring children--you'll never make the cut such that someone won't cry foul. I only claim that both sides have "grievance narratives" that are routinely invoked in every situation, and which preclude any actual solution.

It's like all those Balkan nations still obsessing over the Battle of Lepanto, or the Fall of Byzantium, or...

Israel is surrounded by hostile neighbors (Egypt's forbearance is mainly purchased by us). That's not a justification for all of Israel's actions. It is, however, a guarantee of Israel's intransigence unless America continues to have Israel's back.

At the same time if America rolls over for Israel like Bush II did, that's a guarantee that the Arab states won't see America as an honest broker (or as close to that as we can be without sacrificing Israel).

So as I'm certain Mr. Friedman would agree, the most adroit diplomacy is called for on our part.

In this particular event, the following things are already clear:

1. No one posting a comment here really knows what happened on that ferry, unless they were physically on the ferry's deck AND can be trusted not to lie on behalf of their side.

Yet many will write narratives about what happened as if they had been there and were objective observers. This is the confidence of the zealot, who derives reality from his preconceived ideas, instead of vice-versa.

2. Israel had nothing to gain from killing people on the ferry. If the Israeli forces had had an inkling of what awaited them on the ferry, they would have gone to some kind of Plan B (using frogmen to destroy the ferry's propeller?), not through humanitarianism, but through simply understanding what was best for Israel. In my book, therefore, Israel is probably guilty of bad military planning, but not of murderous intent.

3. Hamas had a great deal to gain from people on their side dying on the ship at the hands of Israelis--one dead pregnant Turkish woman would be more valuable to their cause than a thousand poster-waving protesters.

Points 2 and 3 are instantiations of the principles of assymetrical warfare; they aren't unique to this situation. They're standard operating procedure.

4. It's in both Turkey's and Israel's best interests to defuse this situation, such as by both agreeing on humanitarian aid shipments to Gaza, with Turkey agreeing not to include proscribed items and to allow Israels to inspect the cargo and ship it by truck via an Israeli port, with Israel agreeing to let Turkish inspectors accompany the cargo into Gaza, to guarantee that the cargo reaches its intended recipients.

5. Hard liners in both Turkey and Israel want to keep this from happening, even at the cost of armed conflict.

I don't need to know exactly what happened on the ferry to know these things, and you don't either.

All I ask others is that they actually read Friedman's article before posting their own comment--and realize that the best interests of most Turks and Israelis dovetail in this situation, just as the interests of both Turkish and Israeli hardliners dovetail.

So the "enemy" is hardliners on both sides, and the "friend" is reasonable people on both sides.


1 comment:

Ehkzu said...

DWM left this comment:

ok... so i can't say to the boat people something like maybe 'what the [bleep!] were you thinking? this is israel your goofin' with you fools.'

Blogspot doesn't let me edit comments, so I couldn't censor it and publish it under his own name. But this is everything he said minus one word.