How to Read Reality

How can people read the same things so differently?

On Friday, US Sec. of State gave a speech outlining the new American strategy to the Middle East peace process after the Obama administration announced earlier in the week that it was giving up its effort to halt illegal Israeli settlement construction.  On Saturday, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote an article about the standstill in the process, placing blame at the feet of all responsible.  Besides for the obvious, these two events are linked by the responses they garnered.  More specifically, the responses to Clinton and Friedman show how wildly polarized this conflict actually is.

Clinton expressed frustration with the stalled peace efforts and reaffirmed that the United States would not be a passive partner to peace.  Abandoning, for now, direct negotiations, the US will pursue indirect talks by proxy and apparently will be more willing to offer suggestions to bridge gaps between the parties.  For the most part, Clinton was simply reiterating that the US was not giving in.  The speech could be perceived in many different ways, from inadequate to refreshing.

[tweetmeme] MJ Rosenberg liked the speech, calling it “even-handed as any speech I’ve heard by a Secretary of State since James Baker.”  Although Rosenberg realizes that there was not much meat and potatoes, he heralded the speech as one signaling a more unbiased approach the conflict that could actually result in the US pressuring Israel into peace.  Rosenberg saw the speech’s focus as being criticism of the Israeli government, concluding that perhaps Clinton won’t be playing the role of Israel’s lawyer.

Yousef Munayyer at the Palestine Center, on the other hand, maintains that the speech was a practice of insanity.  Clinton reiterated the same rhetoric about peace and concessions without bring anything new to the table.  While Rosenberg notes this as well, he focused on the tone.  Munayyer blasts away at Clinton for failing to deliver appropriate criticisms and changes in policy.  Where Rosenberg saw a genuine change in rhetoric, Munayyer saw the same old call:

Continuity was the theme. Not change…  In sum, at a another moment when the peace process is in a state of inevitable disarray the so-called even-handed broker tells us that they will do nothing different and hope for better results. Call me a skeptic but this is, after all, the classical definition of insanity.

Thomas Friedman’s article similarly created completely polarized reactions.  The article in question blames both the Palestinians and the Israelis for the stalled peace process and calls for the US to back off in order to force both actors to forge their own peace.

Back to Rosenberg, who this time calls the post ‘excellent.’ According to Rosenberg, the article is even-handed, but directed at Israel [I have to disagree here, read Friedman’s piece].  Jump over to Philip Weiss and you find someone who sees Friedman as trying to manipulate the ‘optics’ by blaming both sides when Israel is the one to blame.

Personally, I side with both Munayyer and Weiss on this articles (which if you follow this blog shouldn’t really be a surprise).  Although Rosenberg makes good points about Clinton’s rhetoric, that is all it is.  There is very little in the speech that demonstrates that the US will actually change its role (I also agree with Munayyer’s point that the entire US strategy – and tactics – is flawed).  Secondly, Friedman’s piece does criticize Israeli leadership, but no more than Palestinian leadership.  Like Weiss, I find Israel to be the one’s avoiding peace here (who turns down $3.5 billion dollars?) – a statement that Friedman avoided.  Friedman also says that:

Oil is to Saudi Arabia what unconditional American aid and affection are to Israel — and what unconditional Arab and European aid and affection are to the Palestinians

And, well, I’m sorry.  But to claim that the amount of political and economic aid Palestine receives from Europeans and Arabs is comparable to the aid and support Israel receives is amazingly and mind-bogglingly absurd.

Suffice it to say that these two articles are easy examples of how the American public views the conflict and the role of the US.  There are those who see change where others see none and those who see bias where others see evenhandedness.

Photo from Politico

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