A New York television station did a story about New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who used his op-ed column to promote a so-called Middle-East peace plan by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. The station wanted to know whether he was using his column to play diplomat. But the host of the show, Brooke Gladstone, turned for answers to Lesley Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and editorial page editor who became an Assistant Secretary of State. He’s hardly an objective observer.
There is a pattern here, but it’s not new. Ted Koppel, whose ABC Nightline show has fallen in the ratings, has been suggested as a possible Secretary of State because of his deft handling of controversial issues. Friedman, however, has gone further, to actually suggesting the contents of a Middle East peace plan. He could have visions of a Nobel Peace Prize if the proposal gets some momentum and takes hold.
In a column, Friedman said he laid out the idea during a dinner with Abdullah and that he “looked at me with mock astonishment and said, ‘Have you broken into my desk?.’ ‘No,’ I said, wondering what he was talking about. ‘The reason I ask is that this is exactly the idea I had in mind? I have drafted a speech along those lines. My thinking was to deliver it before the Arab summit and try to mobilize the entire Arab world behind it. The speech is written, and it is in my desk.'”
Friedman said the comments came in a “long, off-the-record conversation” and that he suggested that Abdullah put them on the record. “He said he would think about it,” Friedman wrote. “The next day his office called, reviewed the crown prince’s quotations and said, Go ahead, put them on the record.”
Friedman himself comes across looking like a genius, someone breaking new ground for the cause of peace. But Time magazine said there was really nothing new in the proposal, and that it mainly restated the principles of a U.N. resolution on the Middle East. The excitement may have obscured the real purpose of Friedman’s visit to Saudi Arabia ? to help the regime look good. Friedman himself reported, “I also used the interview with the Saudi leader to ask why his country had never really apologized to America for the fact that 15 Saudis were involved in 9/11?” Almost on cue, the crown price expressed his regrets. The Washington Post noted that, “Many Israeli analysts say they believe Abdullah’s remarks were intended not so much to make peace but as a gesture to repair relations with the United States, which have been badly strained since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”
Smartertimes.com, a watchdog group, said the New York Times has hyped their columnists’ proposal by claiming it “would trade normalization of Arab relations with Israel for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands it occupied in the 1967 war.” But Friedman also urges Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and from eastern Jerusalem. The Golan Heights are being demanded by Syria, a terrorist state. By omitting these facts, the Times was making the plan sound more practical and reasonable. The Israelis have rejected it.