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Friday, July 15, 2011

Roger Cohen being an idiot, again [David G]

From David G, with a couple of notes from me:

For those of you keeping score at home, the competition for the coveted title of "worst columnist writing about the Middle East for the New York Times," got a little tighter today. Roger Cohen's latest entry is A Year of Waste. Here's  how he starts:

Almost a year ago, President Obama declared to the United Nations General Assembly: “When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.” It’s been a wasted year. 

Just about everywhere in the Middle East there has been movement — stirring, remarkable, uneven — as the region breaks old chains of despotism and seeks its slice of the modern world. But Palestinians and Israelis remain stuck in their sterile and competitive narratives of victimhood, determined, it seems, to ensure past rancor defeats promise. 

As with others at the Times, there's no right or wrong here, only "competitive narratives of victimhood.".

But here's a question. What's the most significant word in the following paragraph?

As usual, there’s plenty of blame to spread around. Obama had one of his worst moments last September when he brought the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the White House to announce renewed talks, only for them to unravel as Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlement expansion. Now, when the United States says to the Palestinians — “Trust us, come to the table, we can deliver” — they scoff. 
The answer is "extend." President Obama did pressure Israel into agreeing to a 10 month freeze and for 9 of those months the Palestinians didn't deign to negotiate. At the end they sat down with the Israelis a few times and then demanded an extension to continue. So who failed? Obama pressured Israel who acceded and the Palestinians refused to negotiate. I give Cohen credit for giving readers a hint of the truth, but that makes his dishonesty all the more obvious.


Fayyad’s state building in the West Bank — schools and roads and institutions and security forces — led the World Bank to declare last year that the Palestinian Authority was ready for a state “at any point in the near future.” But Fayyad never got recognition from Israel for his achievements: Terrorist violence is down 96 percent in the West Bank in the past five years. 
Israel snubbed a viable partner — criminal waste. 

I don't know that Fayyad never got recognition from Israel for his accomplishments; what's clear is that he's never gotten credit from his own people. The reduced terrorist violence that Cohen cites (and I believe that he's wrong about it being 5 years) is not mainly due to the Palestinian police, but to the Israeli efforts in Defensive Shield as well as the building of the security fence. Not that I'd expect Cohen to give Israel any credit, but he's overselling Fayyad here. Additionally given Abbas's recent complaint about not being able to pay salaries, the limitations of what Fayyad has done are clear. He has created a viable state, perhaps, but one that is too dependent upon foreign aid and not enough on Palestinian enterprise.


[Cohen is right about the 5 years, actually. The biggest drop in terror attacks came during the autumn of 2006. However, Fayyad didn't become prime minister until June 2007, so crediting him for the bulk of  reduction in terror is wrong. - EoZ]


Abbas also decided to sign a reconciliation agreement with Hamas that was not thought through. It has since proved stillborn because Hamas will not accept Abbas’s insistence that Fayyad remain as prime minister. Instead, Abbas should have negotiated a truce pending elections in a year that would allow Palestinians to decide who should represent them. An empty reconciliation with Hamas only gave ammunition to Netanyahu, incensed Congress and embarrassed Fayyad. 

"[G]ave ammunition to Netanyahu?" No, it was blatant rejection of the premises of the peace process. And of course it shows that Abbas doesn't much appreciate Fayyad either. (Though, in his favor he does seem to be standing behind Fayyad, so the deal isn't likely to endure.)


The Israeli insistence on up-front recognition from the Palestinians of Israel as a “Jewish state” is absurd — a powerful indication of growing Israeli insecurities, isolation and intolerance. There was no such insistence a decade ago. 
States get recognized, not their nature, and the Palestine Liberation Organization has recognized Israel’s right to “exist in peace and security.” Palestinians are not going to elaborate on their recognition ahead of negotiations, while Netanyahu refuses to elaborate on what his vague formulation of “two states for two peoples” might actually mean. 

Cohen must have thought here that his alliteration was so clever: "Israeli insecurities, isolation and intolerance." But the insistence of Israel as a Jewish state is a fundamental premise of the peace process. Palestinian nationalism denies the historic connection between Jews and Israel, so accepting the Jewish nature of Israel is a necessary step for the Palestinian Authority to show that they've really altered that aspect of their ideology. Frankly, I don't know that "two states for two peoples" needs any elaboration. Without a good argument here Cohen just writes absolute garbage.

[It is worthwhile to note that in the very same document that the PLO recognized Israel's right to "
exist in peace and security" they also wrote
The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.....[T]he PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.
The PLO showed that this part was a lie during the intifada. Why does Cohen believe the statement about recognition of Israel's right to exist in peace and security is sacrosanct when the PLO abrogated the rest of the agreement as far back as 2001? - EoZ]

I think that the op-ed crown I mentioned above still goes to "Turnip Truck" Thomas Friedman, because lately he's been writing a lot more about the Middle East. Cohen's column is an example, if we needed one, that the Times has plenty of people who can write absolute nonsense about the Middle East with no regard for the truth.