US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, on Monday.(photo credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS)

Today, I will tackle the Times’s opinion writer, Thomas Friedman, and his recent column, “Israel has a choice to make: Rafah or Riyadh,” for factual context and even-handedness. 

Two years ago, I published an analysis of a news article by The New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem for bias, and he promptly complained to my editor. Today, I will tackle the Times’s opinion writer, Thomas Friedman, and his recent column, “Israel has a choice to make: Rafah or Riyadh,” for factual context and even-handedness. 

In his latest column, he said the Biden team demands Israel make a choice: go into Rafah, where the last organized brigades of Hamas are, or choose the benefits of normalization with Saudi Arabia. 

Friedman paints a binary picture: Israel accepts what the Biden administration wants – no Rafah operation – while creating a path for Palestinian statehood; otherwise, Israel becomes an international pariah with the acquiescence of America, with the US restricting arms shipments as punishment for its choice. 

Friedman puts the onus on Israel to abandon its campaign to rid the area of the implacable Hamas army, not mentioning that the Biden administration asks, on the other hand, very little of the Palestinians. 

The ultimatum is for Israel to create a “political horizon for a two-state solution with non-Hamas-led Palestinians.” It sounds reasonable to the uninformed, but Friedman doesn’t mention that Israel has offered a state five times over the last 75 years. 

In 2008, the Israelis offered 100% of the West Bank and Gaza with land swaps and Jerusalem as their capital, supposedly everything the American negotiators believed the Palestinians wanted. Unfortunately, the current Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas never responded. 

Those who push for a two-state solution at this time seem oblivious and insensitive to the fact that this would represent to everyone the greatest reward possible for the Hamas massacre, especially with hostages still in captivity and their sexual abuse being exposed. Calling for a reformed Palestinian Authority sounds nice but the fact is that free elections would almost certainly bring Hamas to power. 

Friedman says Israel’s strategy is “revenge.” Israel’s strategy is to end the presence of terror organizations on its borders that strive tirelessly for the genocide of the Jewish people, with the backing of Iran. 

There are no explicit agendas provided of what PA reform means, an essential point if you want them to take over the West Bank and Gaza. Should Israel be forced to begin a path to statehood without America demanding first that the hundreds of millions of dollars a year paid by the PA to convicted terrorists and their families end? 

The PA has also said they would pay Hamas terrorists, excuse me, martyrs. There is an American law, the Taylor Force Act, which demands the withholding of US aid to the PA until they end these payments. Mr. Friedman, are you OK beginning your path to Palestinian independence with this hideous practice left in place?

What has driven Friedman’s narrative? 

HARSH CRITICISM of Israel has driven Friedman’s narrative for decades. In 2022, the American Jewish Committee’s Avital Leibovich wrote an article in The Jerusalem Post, “What Thomas Friedman gets wrong about Israel and democracy.” In it, she says: “Not one word about a little country located in a hostile neighborhood, which has endured many wars and military operations resulting in the loss of many, many civilians and soldiers… Not a word about successful and integrated Israeli minorities.” 

Friedman does not chastise the non-Hamas Palestinian leaders for proudly claiming they were part of the October 7. According to The Times of Israel, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called for unity with the Hamas terror organization. “Shtayyeh indicated that the world needs to forget the massacre happened.” 

Palestinian leader Jibril Rajoub said October 7 was a natural reaction to this terror [by Israel], for the leaders of Israel represent a new Nazi model.” After October 7, Abbas said the Palestinian people have the right of self-defense against the “terror of settlers and occupation troops.”

Why should the onus be only on Israel, which suffered the massacre and organized sexual assaults with the Palestinian people still overwhelmingly in favor of the October 7 massacre? Why should Israel be on the docket, knowing the decades-long history of Palestinian terror and intransigence? Friedman is also mute on ending the endemic Jew-hatred in Palestinian society from schools, mosques, media, and government. 

What Friedman gets right is that Israel has not publicly elaborated an exit strategy from Gaza. But he says the only way Israel can get Arab peacekeeping force(s) to replace Israeli troops is to have it “blessed by a joint decision of the Palestine Liberation Organization.” 

Abbas is the head of Fatah, the PLO, and the PA and has a 90% disapproval rating. How about calling for a complete reform of the PA before asking Israel to take existential chances on a “reformed” negotiating partner you have made no demands of? 

In return for these substantial risks, Friedman says the “United States would bring together Israel, Saudi Arabia, other moderate Arab states and key European allies into a single, integrated security architecture to counter Iranian missile threats.” Suppose that means that Israel loses the option to act against Iranian nuclear facilities preemptively. That may be a “thanks, but no thanks” moment unless the commitment is a binding written agreement signed into law.

It would need to say if Iran crossed an unambiguous red line in its nuclear weaponization work, the US would act with Israel kinetically against Iran. Unwritten promises are useless. Remember when president George W. Bush told prime minister Ariel Sharon that Israel would not be expected to return to the 1949 armistice line (Green or 67 Line)? The Obama administration orchestrated UN Security Council Resolution 2334, making any Israeli presence over the Green Line a war crime. 

Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman wants diplomatic relations with Israel because it is in his nation’s interest to share in Israel’s technological advances, advancing Saudi Arabia to become a first-world technological economy. He also wants to be aligned with America and a strong Israel.

Despite what Friedman says, the Saudis, Jordanians, and Egyptians want Israel to be victorious over Hamas, which is part of the Muslim Brotherhood and threatens their regimes. 

Finally, Friedman says, “What I find both disturbing and depressing is that there is no major Israeli leader today in the ruling coalition, the opposition or the military, who is consistently helping Israelis understand that choice – a global pariah or a Middle East partner – or explaining why it should choose the second.” 

Friedman knows better than Israelis what is good for them. Some humility would be in order. He was part of the crowd that said Israel would never have relations with Arab countries, the Abraham Accords, until Israel would agree to a Palestinian state. 

When someone gives you a binary choice in the five-dimensional world of the Middle East, be wary; they may be advancing an agenda. An unbalanced presentation of the facts misleads the American people and does not advance American national security interests. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network) and Mandel Strategies, a consulting firm for business and government officials in the Middle East. He regularly briefs members of the US Congress and their foreign policy aides. He is the senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report and a regular contributor to The Hill.

By mepin