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Most of us who have seriously studied and lived in Arab countries know that Israel is a familiar excuse—but not a real cause—for any of the problems or turmoil inside the Arab countries. There is widespread Arab yearning for better government and for an end to fasaad (corruption, in Arabic). There is also a tremendous yearning for better jobs and opportunities for real careers, especially among the educated youth, and there is a search for a more normal role for women.
None of this has anything to do with Israel, and it has nothing to do with Israeli “settlements”, which (sorry about this, Tom) are completely legal (take a look at the League of Nations resolutions, San Remo documents, etc).
The only way to bring a chance for more peace and development in the Middle East is “to get real,” not to be surreal. This seat-of-the-pants analysis is not real analysis.
Israel is real. It is also a successful democratic state, though not a perfect one. In some respects, it is much more successful and democratic even than Britain, France, and the United States. For example, it has a lower unemployment rate, and it successfully absorbed more immigrants than any other country in the world.
Tom Friedman and the other surreal pundits should stop trying to bully Israel or to re-draw Israel in the image of its neighbors. Rather they should encourage Israel’s neighbors to face their own problems the way Israel has faced its problems.
Israeli prime ministers are not villains. Whenever a classroom had to be built or a water carrier or sewer needed fixing in Israel, Bibi Netanyahu, Golda Meir or David Ben-Gurion did not ride into the United Nations or the White House and claim that all the problems were caused by the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Iranians etc. Rather, they tried to fix the problem.
So, the first step for the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Iranians and Tom Friedman is:
As Israel’s prime minister comes to town, Tom Friedman and his ilk should not be organizing an Obama-Osama greeting card.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, who has studied and worked in several Arab countries, teaches Arab politics and communication at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post, serving as a special advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991-1992 and as Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, editing secret PLO Archives captured in Jerusalem. He is currently completing a book on Arab-Islamic terror.
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