Thomas Friedman has a suggestion for us as to how we can move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward.
May I suggest a Tahrir Square alternative? 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. The sign should say: “Two states for two peoples. We, the Palestinian people, offer the Jewish people a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed adjustments — including Jerusalem, where the Arabs will control their neighborhoods and the Jews theirs.”
If Palestinians peacefully march to Jerusalem by the thousands every Friday with a clear peace message, it would become a global news event. Every network in the world would be there. Trust me, it would stimulate a real peace debate within Israel — especially if Palestinians invited youth delegations from around the Arab world to join the marches, carrying the Saudi peace initiative in Hebrew and Arabic. Israeli Jews and Arabs should be invited to march as well. Together, the marchers could draw up their own peace maps and upload them onto YouTube as a way of telling their leaders what Egyptian youth said to President Hosni Mubarak: “We’re not going to let you waste another day of our lives with your tired mantras and maneuvering.”
I met Tom Friedman briefly years ago at Oxford when he came to deliver a lecture at St. Antony’s College. I was a fan of his book From Beirut to Jerusalem and found much to admire in Friedman too — he was coherent, down-to-earth, and able to craft complex ideas in engaging, digestible terms. In those days, I found myself agreeing with him more often than not.
We’ve since parted ideological company for the most part, but this piece really has me worried.
Tom (may I call you Tom?), are you for real here? You’re a reputable journalist. Have you kept up to date at all with events in Egypt since Tahrir Square? For that matter, how closely were you paying attention during Tahrir Square? Are you certain you want to use it as a model?
This idea of yours about regular marches of thousands of Palestinians to Jerusalem, complete with Arab “delegations” from hither and yon. As it happens, we had a delegation visit recently. They stormed the Israeli-Syrian border fence. That was — how can I put it? — disconcerting. Are you aware of the recurrent, and ever-popular, campaigns on Facebook to enlist Muslims across the Arab world to descend on Israel and destroy it? Do you have any credible reason to believe most Arabs would hear a Palestinian call for a march on Jerusalem as an opportunity to promote the two-state solution rather than a step toward reversing the Naqba?
And what about the Palestinians themselves? Did you miss the news of Fatah’s reconciliation with Hamas? How does that not warrant a mention? Is it irrelevant? Why? The Palestinians you advise to march on Jerusalem are now re-allied with no-holds-barred jihadists. Are you picturing Khaled Mashaal holding an olive branch and hoisting one of those hefty signs?
And what about the Israelis? You note with some justice that “whichever party has the Israeli silent majority on its side wins,” but then you lose me. Why should the spectacle of Palestinians marching en masse on Jerusalem — in the current environment, with their allegedly pro-peace camp electing to scupper negotiations completely and declare statehood unilaterally, Israel be damned — promote Israeli sympathy for Palestinian self-determination rather than a defensive crouch?
Tom, it’s difficult for me to believe that you, with your deep knowledge of the region, can seriously believe this scenario will play out as you describe. But the alternative is worse: that you know full well how wrong it can go, and you’re okay with that. I don’t know you, so I can’t say one way or the other. All I do know is you’ve got a big audience. Do me a favor and be careful what you wish for on behalf of a country you don’t live in. Israelis and Palestinians don’t exist inside an op-ed schmoozefest. We’re cheek by jowl in a tinderbox. And whether you know it or not, you’re playing with fire.