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The Wisdom of Fareed Zakaria

Ronald Radosh

Fareed Zakaria has gained a reputation as one of the wise men of foreign policy; a former advisor to President Obama and now both host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: Global Public Square and a columnist for Time and other publications. Last week, Zakaria went to town in a few different venues on both Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. On his own program, he offered a monologue attacking Netanyahu, then he went on Eliot Spitzer’s own program to repeat his charges, calling the PM “a comma in history;” and if that wasn’t enough, he repeated his charges in a Washington Post op-ed. It is quite clear that the media is so longing for attacks on Israel that if one is a supposedly esteemed foreign policy pundit, he is given the opportunity to say the same thing over in three different venues.

According to Zakaria, the real news about Netanyahu’s visit was not that President Obama moved in a new anti-Israel direction, but that the president, by announcing that he would oppose Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to go to the UN and ask for recognition of a Palestinian state, had in effect moved the United States to a pro-Israeli position. Thus, Zakaria concluded, “Instead of thanking Obama for this, Prime Minister Netanyahu chose to stage, in the words of the former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas, ‘Nothing less than a bizarre tirade at the White House on Friday, educating the president about the plight and the pogroms of Jews throughout history.’”

His main argument, which he repeats again and again, is that it is clear that it is Netanyahu who does not want a deal, since he prefers to avoid peace to maintain his fragile Israeli coalition, rather than go half way with the Palestinians. To prove his point, he offered a 33 year old video of Netanyahu opposing a Palestinian state—the clear implication is that the man has not changed one bit since then.

Zakaria also claims, as he told Spitzer, that the to-do about the1967 borders is much ado about nothing. “It can’t be,” he told Spitzer, since “if you look at the statements made by every Israeli and American statesman over the last 10 years, including George W. Bush, including a joint statement between Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu, they make references to the ’67 borders. Now, you could say that this was the first time a U.S. president in a speech made this kind of statement. But frankly, this is the kind of Jesuitical distinction without a difference. Everyone knows the basic issue is you’re starting with the ’67 borders. The Israelis give back most of it. They keep some of it. In return, they swap some land to the Palestinians.”

And in his op-ed, Zakaria elaborated, attempting to prove that all past Presidents, and even Netanyahu himself and other former Israeli PM’s, understood that in a final settlement, Israel would go back to the 1967- actually the 1949- borders. Obama, he writes, had not changed anything, “it was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who broke with the past — in one of a series of diversions and obstacles Netanyahu has come up with anytime he is pressed.” Even the administration of George W. Bush, Zakaria claims, knew this. He writes:

The Bush administration did not have a different position, as statements from the president and Condoleezza Rice make clear. Here is George W. Bush in 2008: “I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.”

And, he adds, so did Netanyahu himself one year ago:

Or consider this statement from last November: “[T]he United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.” That’s not Obama, Bush or Rice, but a statement jointly issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu on Nov. 11, 2010.

At first glance, the above certainly sounds convincing—although astute followers of policy know that George W. Bush signed a letter of agreement with the Israeli government on these issues of a quite different nature, and which the current administration has completely ignored. Yet to Zakaria, the obstacle to peace is simple. It is Netanyahu himself, who “has never believed in land for peace.” Not Mahmoud Abbas, who as Elliot Abrams writes, is the “man who really torpedoed the peace process.” Zakaria claims the former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert agreed to go back to the 1967 borders, omitting to let his readers know, as Abrams does, that “To the generous peace offer made by Ehud Olmert in 2008, Abbas responded with silence.” In fact, Olmert thought he had an agreement, but Abbas walked out saying he would return the next day to sign it, and instead, never returned or said one word to Olmert.

Zakaria, however, should read The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, who once again revealed how Zakaria, like others earlier, distorted the actual record and got everything wrong. While Netanyahu appeared to say something similar to President Obama in the joint statement cited by Zakaria of Nov. 11, 2010, Kessler points out that this statement, cited as well to make the same point by his other anti-Israeli journalistic pundits- Andrew Sullivan and Joe Klein, “this is not the same thing as Obama’s statement last week.”

Kessler explains in the following in his invaluable “Fact Checker” weekly column:

As mentioned in our original post, Clinton first said this carefully worded statement in 2009, and then repeated it many times. This phrasing mentions “the 1967 lines” and “agreed swaps” in the context of a “Palestinian goal.” This is then matched with a specific “Israeli goal,” which included reference to “subsequent developments” (i.e., Jewish settlements on the West Bank.)

When Obama last week dropped the reference to “Palestinian goal,” he made it official U.S. policy. That’s the difference. Such nuances, arcane as they may seem, loom large in diplomacy.

Moreover, if you read the full joint statement closely, you will see that Netanyahu does not even endorse Clinton’s phrasing. This sentence is framed as a quote by Clinton, as in: “The Secretary reiterated that ‘the United States believes that through good-faith negotiations …”

“It is incorrect to claim,” Kessler adds, that Netanyahyu “ever used this formulation in the past. If they had, the language would not have been attributed only to Clinton.” This, of course, did not stop Zakaria, Klein or Sullivan from incorrectly citing it to make their frivolous argument.

So it seems that we are in for a steady diet of blaming Israel for the continued failure of the Palestinians to opt for peace, and for the Arab neighbors of Israel to do the same. Zakaria claims Israel is strong and with a nuclear arsenal, which he interprets to mean it is invincible and can ignore the threats made against it. As for Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas, their names never seem to cross his desk. Evidently, their threats against Israel are also to be ignored, since Israel is strong.

It’s time, I think, for Mr. Zakaria to get a new GPS.

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