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Columnist Thomas Friedman

Foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, Thomas Friedman. He's just won his third Pulitzer Prize, this time for his "clarity of vision, based on extensive reporting, in commenting on the worldwide impact of the terrorist threat." Friedman was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for his international reporting from Lebanon and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting from Isreal. He's also the author of From Beirut to Jerusalem, and The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization.

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Transcript

DATE May 29, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Tom Friedman discusses the continuing violence in the
Middle East and possible solutions to the unrest
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Tom Friedman, will receive his third Pulitzer Prize tomorrow at a
luncheon ceremony on the Columbia University campus. Friedman writes a
foreign affairs column for The New York Times. He will be awarded the
Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary for his clarity of vision based on
extensive reporting and commenting on the worldwide impact of the terrorist
threat. Friedman used to cover the Middle East for The Times. His first two
Pulitzer Prizes were for his reporting from Lebanon and Israel. His
best-selling book "From Beirut to Jerusalem" won a National Book Award. This
summer, Friedman will have a new book out called "Longitudes & Attitudes" that
will collect his post-September 11th columns, along with journal excerpts
covering his travels around the world.

Tom Friedman, welcome back to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your third
Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. TOM FRIEDMAN (The New York Times): Thanks so much. Great to be here.

GROSS: Now let's acknowledge the fact that you've become part of one of the
stories. On February 17th, you wrote a column about your meeting with Crown
Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in which you proposed that if Israel withdraw
to pre-1967 lines, and the Palestinian state was established, then the Arab
League nations would offer Israel full diplomatic relations, normalized trade
and security guarantees. And what did the prince say to your proposal?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, he said that he had been thinking about the same thing,
that he'd actually drafted a speech along those lines which he was planning to
deliver to the Arab League Summit. But in light of what he said Ariel Sharon,
the Israeli prime minister, had been doing in the West Bank, he decided not to
give that speech. But he claimed that I had broken into his drawer and read
the speech, tongue-in-cheek he claimed, because his ideas so tracked my own.

GROSS: So did you convince the prince to actually make that plan public?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yes. I...

GROSS: How? What did you say?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I basically said that I was flattered to know that his ideas
tracked mine, that was all very nice, well and good, but unless he put them
on--we were having an off-the-record conversation, I should say--this was at a
dinner at his home--but unless he put them on the record, they really wouldn't
mean anything, and that I had heard that excuse so many times in the past from
Arab leaders, `Oh, if only Bibi Netanyahu hadn't done this, I was about to go
to Israel,' you know? `Oh, if only Sharon hasn't done this, I was about to,
you know, make peace with Israel.' I said none of that really mattered until
and unless he put it on the record in his own name, in his own voice, in
Arabic, in ways that would be read not only by Israelis, but by his own
people.

And he thought about that. He said he wanted to think about it, and he
thought about it for over 24 hours before he came back and agreed to put it on
the record.

GROSS: So do you consider that proposal, which was discussed at the Arab
League meeting, and which has been...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Discussed and passed, actually.

GROSS: Yeah. Is it still in play? Does it mean anything right now given the
deteriorating state of relations between Israel and the Palestinians?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Now that's a very good question, Terry. I think it does,
actually, and I think it does for several reasons. Let's go back and let's
ask--if I might rephrase your question, was it just PR? Because that's
really, you know, one of the questions that many people asked afterwards. And
my first answer to that is, `Of course it was PR.' It was designed, and maybe
first and foremost, to improve Saudi Arabia's terrible image in the United
States after 9/11 in light of the fact that 15 of the hijackers were from
Saudi Arabia.

But to me, the more important question is, was it only PR? And I believe,
categorically, it was not only PR, that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia
understood several things. He understands that he's now living in a different
age. Something very big is happening out there, Terry. Three historical
forces are converging right now in the Middle East. One is the worst
interpersonal fighting between Israelis and Palestinians that we've seen in
the history of this conflict, in many ways. That's going on, you know, over
there in Palestine on stage.

On another historical track, you're having a population explosion. There's a
huge population cohort of young Arabs and Muslims that are kind of marching
toward the workplace right now. Forty percent of Saudi Arabia is under the
age of 14; 70 percent of Saudi Arabia is under the age of 29. So think of all
of them as just a big army of young men and women marching toward a workplace
where, frankly, there are not a lot of jobs, and certainly not enough good
jobs to go around. That's happening on a second track.

On a third track, what is happening is an explosion of Arab multimedia,
primarily independent satellite TV stations out of the control of government,
and the Internet. And basically what is happening, in simple terms, is that
explosion of Arab multimedia is taking the images of this terrible intifada of
fighting between Israelis and Palestinians and feeding it to this new
generation, this population explosion coming of age.

Now not only is that, I believe, a huge threat to Israel, but I think it is
perceived by the Arab leaders as really being a threat to them. There's been
a lot of talk about the Arab street rising up. Well, I don't think this
street is going to rise up, but it has clearly inflamed passions of many of
these young people in ways that I've never seen before. And these inflamed
passions are meeting up with other discontents, discontents about their own
lacking economic opportunities and discontent about their own dictatorial
government, and is creating an incredible, at a minimum, foul wind out in that
part of the world. And this foul wind is an extremely anti-American wind, and
if it persists, what's going to happen is it's going to become increasingly
difficult for these pro-American regimes--like the Saudi regime, like the
Egyptian regime--to maintain the kind of relationship they want and believe
they need for their own survival.

And so for all these reasons I believe that Crown Prince Abdullah and other
Arab leaders, who I think have shamelessly exploited the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict over the years as a way of diverting their people's attention from
domestic issues, have come to understand that they really now have an interest
in, at a minimum, taking this show off the air. And I believe that's a lot of
what was behind the Saudi initiative.

GROSS: You say that you're seeing, as a result of all the mess, the new
independent mass media. You're seeing discontents you didn't see before in
younger people in the Arab world. Give us a sense of things you're seeing now
that seem new to you.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, I guess the newest thing is the number of young Arabs,
particularly Arab women, Muslim women who have e-mailed me since 9/11, to
simply tell me how frustrated they are and to keep up my criticism on issues
like democratization, like education reform, like economic reform. You know,
the great frustration of the Arab world, I believe, is that, unlike other
regions of the world, it's really only been able to ask one question for 50
years: Who controls Palestine?

Think about it for a second. China is obsessed with Taiwan. It's as
neuralgic an issue for the Chinese as Palestine is for the Arab and Muslim
world. Yet China has managed to ask more than one question of itself and of
its people: Who controls Taiwan? As big as that issue is, it's also been
able to ask the question: How do we reform and update our education system?
How do we reform and develop our economy? How do we pluralize our politics?
In the Arab world that has not happened. Basically Arab politics and
intellectual thought, political intellectual thought, has been dominated by
one question, and one question only: Who controls Palestine?

And anyone who wants to raise the issue of what about who controls us? What
about political reform? What about economic reform? What about how do we
plug into the world? What about education reform? All those questions have
been drowned out by this other larger question of who controls Palestine.

GROSS: Why do you think that is? Because for people who aren't living in the
West Bank or Gaza, the issue of education in their country, of democracy in
their country, of the economy in their country, jobs in their country is of
much more day-to-day importance, you know, just in terms of the quality of
their lives.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I think there's a couple reasons for it.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. One short answer is culture. There is something
about the culture there that is different from the culture of Asia, and I
can't tell you what it is, but I do believe culture matters and explains a lot
of things. The other is deliberate politics. I mean, you see there are
different bargains struck. If you look at the bargain that East Asian leaders
struck with their people--this is very crude shorthand, but it actually works.
The East Asian leaders basically came to their people 50 years ago and said,
`If you give up democracy, we will give you prosperity,' and their people gave
up democracy and in the end they got prosperity. And when they got enough
prosperity, they also got democracy.

In the Middle East, Arab leaders came to their people and said, `If you give
up democracy, we will give you the Arab-Israeli conflict,' and that's what
they've given them for 50 years. And I believe it's been a huge diversion and
crutch that these leaders have used to mask not only their own incredible
failures to modernize and develop their countries, but to divert their people's
energies and attention away from them and the whole idea of pluralizing power
and politics. And don't get me wrong, I respect and appreciate why the
olive-tree issue--Who controls Palestine?--would resonate and be important to
young Arabs and Muslims, but you've got to ask more than one question, and
they haven't, and they've paid a huge price for that, I believe, as a society.

GROSS: What was it like for you to be part of the story? You know, what are
some other repercussions of having been part of the reason why the Saudi
prince made his peace proposal public at the Arab Summit?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, believe it or not, Terry, I really wasn't
thinking about it that much. The sequence of events was the following: I
wrote a column proposing that at their summit they make a proposal to Israel
calling for full peace and normalization and trade for all 22 members of the
Arab League in return for full Israeli withdrawal. So full peace from the
Arab League for full Israeli withdrawal. Because it seemed to me--why did I
think that was an important idea? Because it was clear to me there was an
Israeli peace plan on the table, the Barak plan. Even if the current Israeli
government hadn't embraced it, there was a clear Israeli peace plan on the
table. The was an American peace plan on the table, the Clinton peace plan.
Even if the Bush administration hadn't embraced it, it was on the table. And
what was missing was an Arab peace plan. There was no Arab peace plan, an
Arab peace plan in the sense of not only stipulating what the Arabs wanted
form Israel, but doing something they really hadn't done as a collective, and
that was to stipulate what they would be ready to give Israel in return as a
community, as all 22 members of the Arab League.

And I felt that if there were such a thing on the table that it might begin to
catalyze the situation. So I wrote that column. Did Crown Prince Abdullah
read that column and just copy it and claim that it was his idea? Honestly,
Terry, I have no idea, and I have no way of knowing what was really in his
drawer. I didn't go into his office and look. But the truth is I really
wasn't thinking about it. When he said it, I thought it was important. I
thought it was important that he say it in his own voice. And when he did, I
did what seemed to me any self-respecting columnist would do: I put it on the
record.

Now I know that no one in Washington, no pundits here, have ever, ever been
the vehicle or platform for floating an idea from a government official or a
member of Congress, and at the same time, I know that things were going so
well between Israelis and Palestinians, I'm so sorry I got in the way with a
little ray of sunlight. But you know what? Up your nose with a rubber hose.
If I can make some little, you know, ray of sunlight by bringing this guy's
words to the public, I'm going to do it. And guess what? I then stepped out
of the way, because it all depended, as I told everybody, what he did with
those words, and what he did with those words was go to the Arab League and
make them the official policy of the Arab League. And even though they were
slightly watered down, they are now the official policy of the Arab League.

We will get back to a new peace process eventually. I really firmly believe
that. And when we do, I won't be surprised if the Abdullah initiative is
actually the platform on which the next round of peacemaking is built.

GROSS: My guest is Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York
Times. Tomorrow he receives his third Pulitzer Prize. It's for his
post-September 11th columns. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Tom Friedman is my guest. He's a political columnist for The New York
Times. Tomorrow he receives his third Pulitzer Prize.

Now in your columns you have been critical of both Israelis and Palestinians.
For example, you say that Sharon wants two Israeli states and that Arafat
really wants two Palestinian states. Explain what you mean there.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I believe Yasser Arafat has been negotiating
all these years for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East
Jerusalem, but at the same time, by his demand for the right of return for the
refugees from 1948 to pre-1967 Israel, not the West Bank, Gaza and East
Jerusalem, but Tel Aviv, Haifa and the Galilee, he also wants a Palestinian
state there as well. The first one he wants to get through negotiations. The
second he wants to get through population transfer and demographics. And
Yasser Arafat never, ever quite closes the door and throws away the key on the
thought that there would be a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and
East Jerusalem, and also one day that they would recover all of the rest of
Palestine.

Ariel Sharon is just the reverse. He wants an Israeli state in the area of
pre-1967 Israel, in Tel Aviv, Haifa and the Galilee and Negev. And at the
same time, by his furious building of settlements all over the West Bank, to
make it impossible for Israel ever to get out of those areas, he wants a
Jewish state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as well. And so, you
know, poor, little, stupid me, I just signed up for two states, but it turns
out these guys have actually been struggling for four, two apiece. And I
think until we get back to just fighting over two states, we're really, I
think, not going to get anywhere.

GROSS: So let me ask you how you would resolve these issues. Let's start
with the right of return. You're arguing the right of return would make
Israel into a Palestinian state, because so many Palestinians would move
there. Should...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: By the way...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...a way to deal with that is--you know, it's very simple, you
know, that Palestinians will live in the Palestinian state and Jews will live
in the Jewish state, and that means, very simply, the Palestinians have to
abandon the right or return to pre-1967 Israel, and the Jews have to abandon
the right of return to post-1967 Israeli, i.e. the West Bank and Gaza. And
that's the obvious and natural tradeoff here. And if Palestinians are only
going to feel home if they are back in their exact home, you know, that their
grand- or great-grandparents left in 1947 or '48, then I would really have to
question, you know, what this is all about. Because, I mean, do you want a
state that is the springboard and the foundation for the revival of your
culture, your language, your history? Or are you really not a part of a
community and the only thing that will make you happy is if you're back in the
exact house you left? If that's the case, I don't think history can help you.

GROSS: Well, do you think that the Palestinians should get any form of
compensation for the homes that they lost?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I think the issue of compensation is interesting. I certainly
would support it. But I think there's also the issue of compensation for the
Jews who left their homes, or were evicted form their homes in all these Arab
countries between 1948 and 1967. And so, you know, I think the issue of
compensation is a tricky one, but I personally believe, and would like to
see--and this was the idea in the Clinton plan--that Palestinians be given a
choice, that those who want to return to the new Palestinian state in the West
Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, hopefully, should be able to do so, and I think
should be facilitated in doing so with financial help for housing and for
transfer. And those who have taken root somewhere else and simply don't want
to move should be given the option, I believe, of financial compensation.

GROSS: Who would supply the financial compensation?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I think the financial compensation should be provided by the
EU, by the Arab world, by the United States and by Japan--I think the normal
collection of donors that have lined up to help places like Bosnia and Kosovo.

But, you know, if I could just follow up your question briefly, Terry, because
I think another issue that I've tried to wrestle with is, `Well, how do you
get to this point where these guys give up fighting for four states and get it
down to just fighting for two states, one Palestinian state and next to it one
Jewish-Israeli state?' And my answer to that is very simple, which is that
without a civil war within each community, you will never solve the civil war
between the two communities. And what I mean by that is simply that
Palestinians--I believe the majority of Palestinians would be content with a
Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. I believe
there's a minority--I can't tell you how big or small--that really wants to
fight for the whole ball of wax, really does want to eliminate the Jewish
state.

Until and unless Yasser Arafat, or whoever's the Palestinian Authority,
crushes that movement, that dissident minority movement, and disarms them and
turns them into nothing more than a minority political party, or no party at
all--in other words, until there is a civil war within the Palestinian
community over this issue, and the majority that is content with simply one
Palestinian state now and forever is dominant, you'll never resolve the issue.
Ditto...

GROSS: What about in Israel? Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I say ditto on the Israeli side. Until and unless you have a
government in Israel ready to take on the settlers, to forcibly evict them if
need be and hopefully, much preferably, induce them either financially or
politically to leave in the context of a peace agreement, until you have that
civil war among the Jews--OK?--you're not going to get anywhere either. So
unless you have civil wars within the communities, you're never going to be
able to resolve the larger civil war between the communities. And what so
much of the peace process has been about, ever since Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak
Rabin were assassinated, was each community trying to kind of get what it
wanted and avoid that inevitable civil war. And I can't blame the leaders,
because the leaders are terrified that they, if they take this largest, dark
decision, will meet the fate of Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat.

GROSS: Tom Friedman is a foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times.
Tomorrow he receives his third Pulitzer Prize. We'll talk more in the second
half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, what the Middle East might look like after Arafat and
Sharon. We continue our conversation with New York Times foreign affairs
columnist Thomas Friedman. Tomorrow he receives his third Pulitzer Prize.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Thomas Friedman. He
writes a foreign affairs column for The New York Times. Tomorrow he receives
his third Pulitzer Prize. It's for his post-September 11th columns and his
clarity of vision in commenting on the worldwide impact of the terrorist
threat. His previous Pulitzers were for his reporting for The Times from
Lebanon and Israel. He won a National Book Award for his best-seller "From
Beirut to Jerusalem." This summer he'll have a new book called "Longitudes &
Attitudes" that will collect his post-September 11 columns and include his
journals of his travels after 9/11. When we left off, we were talking about
the Middle East. He told me about what effect he thinks the second intifada
is having on the Palestinian cause.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I believe this Al Aqsa intifada, this Palestinian uprising was
a huge strategic error for the Palestinians. I believe it never had a
clear-cut strategy, and because of that, I believe it's done enormous damage
to the Palestinian cause, for one very simple reason. You know, when you had
war in the Middle East, you could hope for peace, and when you had peace, you
could hope for more peace. But when you get war after peace--in other words,
war after Oslo, you really erode, you know, so much of the confidence that you
need for a peace deal between two intertwined communities.

And I have a very, very simple, you know, mantra here. The only people who
can or will deliver the Palestinians a state of their own, in the West Bank,
Gaza, in East Jerusalem, and the people, I believe, who under the right
conditions would deliver the Palestinians a state of their own in the West
Bank, Gaza, in East Jerusalem, is the Israeli center, the Israeli silent
majority. And when they were challenged by Anwar Sadat they delivered, you
know, full Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. When they were challenged, but
with an outreached hand, by King Hussein, they delivered the peace deal with
Jordan, including land swaps.

Until and unless the Palestinians pursue a strategy that is aimed at
convincing the Israeli silent majority that they are content with one state
and that they truly are ready to live side by side with a Jewish state within
secure and recognized boundaries, the Palestinians are not gonna get anywhere,
and the suicide bombing, the whole intifada, I believe, has been just an
incredibly wasted--the intifada made sense for about two weeks, Terry. It
made sense for the first two weeks. For Yasser Arafat to signal, `I can't
accept the exact deal Clinton is offering me. I've got my own constituency
here, I've got my own opposition.' I can understand it for two weeks, maybe a
month. It has made no sense for this length of time, and I believe it has set
back the Palestinians enormously, and I think it's a real tragedy.

GROSS: Let me ask you about a paradox that you describe in one of your
columns, and that is that you say Israel can't remain a democracy as long as
it remains an occupying force, but on the other hand, the Palestinians can't
be trusted now to run the territories without making them a base of operations
to fight against Israel. So what's your proposal?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: What's the way--yeah? Have you talked to Crown Prince Abdullah
about that, smart guy?

GROSS: Yeah. What way around that do you see? Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah. Basically the way I see it, Terry, is that the dilemma
that faces us right now is that Israel cannot stay in the territories. It
cannot stay in the territories and I believe remain, in the long term, a
viable Jewish and democratic state. I also believe it can't leave the
territories--just pick up and leave, because I believe if it did, there's
every chance that those areas would be used by a minority of Palestinians to
continue to pursue the struggle against Israel. And so what do you do? What
do you do when you can't stay, but you also can't leave? And that, I believe,
is the core of the diplomatic conundrum we have now.

Now we tried one approach. One approach was kind of leaving Israelis and
Palestinians to work out an arrangement through Oslo, of gradual authority
given to Yasser Arafat over time to build a protostate, and that didn't work.
Oslo collapsed. It collapsed for two fundamental reasons. One, because
Yasser Arafat built peace with one hand and he continued to build hate against
Jews and Israel in his mosques and his textbooks with the other. It failed,
also, because Israel built peace with one hand and it continued to build
settlements that maintained a colonial occupation and seized Palestinian land
with the other. And so that's basically why Oslo failed.

So now we have to step back and say, `Well, you know, how do we salvage this
situation?' And what I have suggested is I believe NATO should take over the
West Bank. It should take over the West Bank the way it took over Bosnia and
Kosovo in conjunction with, in negotiation with, with an understanding with
both Israelis and Palestinians that what we need right now are two things: An
arrangement that gets Israel out of the territories, but an arrangement that
gets Israel out of the territories without exposing Israel to Palestinians
having those territories as an independent base of operation if Israel is not
there.

And I think the only way to do that is with a credible third party. I would
prefer US troops, but if necessary, NATO troops, to take over, to really
create a UN protectorate, a new mandate for Palestine, under NATO and the UN,
that would have as its clear objective the creation of an independent
Palestinian state, but would do so in a phased way that basically begins with
new elections, the creation of a new Palestinian Authority, and really gives
the Palestinians a chance that they haven't had up to now, and challenges them
with something they haven't been challenged with up to now, is gradual Israeli
withdrawal on one hand and the gradual development of real institutions and a
civil society and a real air of democracy with the other, all under the
supervision and authority of a NATO-UN mandate.

GROSS: Now I want to get back to something you were saying before. You were
saying that you think the intifada has been very counterproductive for the
Palestinians, that you could understand, say, a two-week-long second intifada,
but after two weeks or a month, it became a setback. What about Israel's
incursions into the territories? Do you think that that's been a setback,
too? Israel went back into the territories this week.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...(Unintelligible).

GROSS: Let me say, their stated reason is to try to stop the suicide bombings
and the suicide bombings are--after a period in which there weren't any,
they're happening again in Israel.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Right. Well, here's basically what I think, Terry. I think
that over the last three months, because of the success that the suicide
bombings had had in certainly unnerving Israelis, a fantasy was taking root
among Palestinians and to some extent in the wider world--a fantasy that was
basically being fanned by Hezbollah and Hezbollah TV in Lebanon. And the
fantasy was that, `You Palestinians, you don't need to make a peace deal with
the Jews. You can drive them out, not only of the West Bank, but maybe of
Israel proper, just the way we drove them out of southern Lebanon, if you're
ready to sacrifice enough, including your own children.' That fantasy was
taking root.

You see, the Hezbollah view of Israel is Israel is just a big, dumb, Silicon
Valley where everyone wants to drive a BMW and is only worried about their
stock options, and, therefore, if you come at them in a really vicious way,
including by sacrificing your kids through suicide, you can actually drive the
Jews out. I believe that was a huge fantasy. I believe that North Tel Aviv
is not South Lebanon, and I believe that fantasy that certainly people in the
Israeli military establishment believe that it had to be punctured, and the
only way to puncture it was with the kind of fighting you saw during the last
month. But I only supported this military operation that Israel did--or it
only seemed to make sense to me under one condition, Terry: If it was meant
to make the West Bank safe for Israel to leave permanently, not to stay
permanently.

And what worries me very much is that what Ariel Sharon is up to through this
military operation is not just to puncture a fantasy so that we can get back
to reality and negotiate a real peace agreement, one that will lead to a
two-state solution, I believe Ariel Sharon wants to make the West Bank safe
for Israel to stay, not for Israel to leave. So in that sense, if that is the
objective, I think it will truly, truly be a huge failure.

GROSS: My guest is Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York
Times. Tomorrow he receives his third Pulitzer Prize. It's for his
post-September 11th columns. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Tom Friedman is my guest. He's a foreign affairs columnist for The
New York Times. He's about to get his third Pulitzer Prize at a luncheon
tomorrow. His first two were for his Middle East coverage. His new one is
for his post-September 11th columns. He also won a National Book Award for
his book "From Beirut to Jerusalem."

There's a debate in Israel, there's a debate in the Bush administration now
about whether to keep recognizing Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian
Authority or force him out. And I think it's very interesting that that
debate is happening in the Bush administration. Now say for argument's sake
Arafat was forced out by Israel or by Israel with the implicit backing of the
Bush administration. Who are the other possible Palestinian leaders that
could take his place?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, my view of this is--and I'm agnostic on
whether Arafat comes or goes. To me it's a question of who's ready to make,
you know, what decision. I believe if there are any justice in the world,
Arafat, given the tragedies and disasters he's visited on his own people
through his own feckless leadership, he certainly deserves to go. And I hope
that, you know, if diplomacy doesn't do it, that eventually biology will, so
sooner or later he will pass from the scene. Although, you know, I don't know
if you noticed, like he, Castro, Saddam, there must be like a dictator's diet.
I mean, they've all given up smoking, you know, they all eat yogurt and they
all take long naps in the afternoon, and it's like these guys, they never--you
know, I'm here watching my cholesterol and these guys, like, just go on and
on. But anyways, sooner or later...

GROSS: I'll invite them on for a panel on the show.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...you know--that's right.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: You know, the dictator's diet. I mean, what is it, you know?
But here's what I really believe. Yasser Arafat will not be replaced by an
individual. I believe he'll be replaced by a coalition. He'll be replaced by
a collective leadership. It may have some titular head, but one that I would
hope would represent all the strands of Palestinian society and
decisionmaking. For instance, I would like to see Hamas in the Palestinian
decisionmaking, you know, coalition. I would like to see, you know, a
Palestinian Islamic Jihad in there. I'd like to see the DFLP and the PFLP. I
would like to see a Palestinian kind of collective decisionmaking body that
together would be ultimately ready and willing, hopefully, to reach an
agreement.

See, one of the problems is about Arafat is that, you know, people say about
Arafat, Palestinians can't have peace without him with Israel, but they can't
have democracy with him. And I don't even believe that's true. I think they
can't have peace with him or democracy with him, because as much authority as
he has, he just doesn't seem ready or willing to make the big decision, 'cause
he's afraid for his life. Well, if that's the case, then let's basically
broaden the base of decisionmaking so that Palestinians can be in a position
that if and when they take a decision, it will truly represent their entire
collective. And that's why I...

GROSS: Well, tell me more about why you'd want to include the jihadi groups,
the groups who are responsible for the suicide bombers, in this coalition.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: 'Cause I want everybody to be responsible for this decision,
and--or if they're not ready to be responsible, then I want them to have to be
able to walk out on their entire community, not just on Yasser Arafat.

GROSS: What do you think the odds of a coalition like this being established
are?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I actually think they're quite high, 'cause I don't think
there is any single individual, not only who stands out now as the natural
successor to Arafat, but I think it's even more fundamental. I think nobody
wants the job. I think nobody wants that kind of responsibility for having to
sign off on a deal with Israel. And I think if it did come down to one
person, that person would be more hard line than Yasser Arafat, because no one
is gonna risk being exposed as giving away things Arafat, you know, wasn't
ready to give away, and being Israel's boy or America's boy.

And I don't think that's gonna happen, and that's why to me the focus on
Arafat coming or going is really the wrong issue. The focus has got to be on
who can make the right decision. The right decision, of course, is a
compromise, but a compromise that is fair to Palestinians and fair to Israelis
at the same time. A compromise based on the 1967 boundaries. And, you know,
I believe Arafat wasn't even up to that decision, and I would like to see a
coalition that might be.

GROSS: Now what do you see in Israel as possible leaders after Sharon? How
long do you estimate Sharon will stay in power?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, I think it all depends on the Palestinians. Israelis,
you know, have elected--how many since Oslo?--five different prime ministers,
you know, over the last decade, and what the Israeli public has shown is
actually a very keen understanding of where the opportunities and dangers are.
When they sense there are greater opportunities from the Arab side, that there
was a real Arab partner, they brought you Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. When
they sensed that the other side was off on a flight of fantasy, they brought
you Bibi Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. And so I believe that, you know, if you
had a Palestinian leadership tomorrow that basically, you know, was able to
persuade the Israeli center, that, you know, they're ready for a real
two-state solution that would end the conflict and would deal with the refugee
issue in the context of refugees going back to the Palestinian state or
compensation, that you'd get an Israeli majority tomorrow. I have no doubt
about it.

Terry, when 60 percent of Israelis, in the middle of this terrible
situation--suicide bombings almost every day--when 60 percent of Israelis, 36
percent of Likud voters, of Sharon's supporters, say that they would support
the Saudi peace initiative, what does that tell you? What it tells you is
that this war that we've just been through--and it has been a war, OK. We've
been through in the last six months the sixth Arab-Israeli war, and while this
war doesn't have a name, it does have an aftermath, and the aftermath is
having a huge effect you can see in Palestine among Palestinians, and in
Israel among Israelis.

And what it's done in Israel is basically crushed the two ideas, the two big
ideas that have dominated Israeli politics over the last 30 years. It has
completely exploded the rights idea, the Jewish rights idea, that somehow
Israel can retain the West Bank and Gaza, build all the settlements it wants,
maintain a colonial occupation, seize Palestinian land all it wants, and the
Palestinians will roll over for it. Well, guess what? That's a bunch of
nonsense and it's a bunch of hooey and it's been exploded. Unfortunately, the
left's argument that Yasser Arafat can and will be a responsible partner to
build Palestinians institutions and a Palestinian civil society, that can be
the foundation of a two-state solution that would end the conflict has also
been exploded. And so we've had the two big ideas that dominated Israeli
politics all these years exploded.

What's come in their place, though, Terry, is something very interesting.
Instead of Israel being divided over two ideas, it's now united over two
ideas. What I mean by that is Israelis are now--there is a solid majority,
67, 70, 80 percent, who are for crushing the Palestinians as long as they are
out to just kill Israelis, which is what the suicide violence is all about.
As long as that is the dominant thing coming out of Palestinians, suicide
violence, then there is a huge majority in Israel for simply using whatever
force necessary to put that down.

At the same time, Israelis are also united the other way. There is a clear
majority of Israelis who support the Saudi peace initiative now, or any peace
initiative, if and when Palestinians demonstrate that they aren't out to
destroy Israel, that they actually want a two-state solution and only a
two-state solution. So I find Israeli politics very interesting now. Instead
of being divided over two ideas, the public is actually united around these
two ideas, and they will go whichever way the Palestinians lead them.

GROSS: It's very difficult, I think, now for journalists to write about the
Middle East. There are pressure groups on both sides that are accusing many
journalists of not being fair, and it's a real mine field for journalists and
for columnists to write about the Middle East without, you know, terrible
accusations or even threatened boycotts headed in their direction. In fact,
there's a boycott against The New York Times by Jewish readers who say that
The New York Times coverage is unfair. Do those pressures come knocking at
your door from either side?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, let me make a general point and then talk a little bit
about myself. My general point is just what I learned in covering the Middle
East now for, you know, virtually all my adult life, is that in the Middle
East, everyone wants to own you as a reporter, and if they can't own you, they
want to destroy you. There is no middle ground. No one puts their arm around
you and says, `Jeez, Terry, I really appreciated that fair, balanced report
you did on my community. God, we really needed that criticism and we're gonna
go home and think about it.' That just doesn't happen.

I understand why people are inflamed. This is the most polarizing moment I've
ever been through in Middle East reporting, and it's a combination of
post-9/11, of war after peace, of crushing disappointment on both sides, and
there is real anger out there. Not only is there real anger, but there are
much better tools out there--the Internet for one, satellite TV for another,
independent satellite TV--for people to communicate their anger directly to
you and to one another. And so, you know, I don't want to sit here and defend
every piece of journalism that's come out of the Middle East by the American
media over the last, you know, three or four months. I'm sure mistakes have
been made. But I think as a general matter, the press, whether it's The New
York Times or The Washington Post or National Public Radio--and I'm a careful
reader of all three--I think as a general matter, they've been trying to do a
fair and decent job.

It's not easy under these conditions, and all you have to do is read the
Israeli press and see the searing criticism in Ha'Aretz's English edition of
things going on in Israel and the West Bank to know that the American press
has been pretty much on line. I think the European media has been much less
responsible.

GROSS: My guest is Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York
Times. Tomorrow he receives his third Pulitzer Prize. It's for his
post-September 11th columns. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tom Friedman who's a foreign
affairs columnist for The New York Times. Tomorrow he receives his third
Pulitzer Prize. It's for his post-September 11th columns. His previous two
Pulitzers were for his reporting from the Middle East. He also won a National
Book Award for his book "From Beirut to Jerusalem."

You are not only writing about one of the most divisive issues in the world,
you're also Jewish and you've been traveling a lot over the years through the
Middle East and through the Arab world, and I'm wondering if you're sensing a
rise in anti-Semitism in the places where you travel, where you've been
traveling for many years?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: There's no question that there is a rise of anti-Jewish feeling
since 9/11 and this latest uprising in the territories. Unfortunately, Terry,
what I've found in the Arab-Muslim world is that the issue of Israel, Jews and
America are all being wrapped up into one conspiratorial ball that is being
blamed for a lot of ills, you know, by a lot of people in the Arab-Muslim
world. That's going on at the macro level. But I have to say, I've spent
almost all my time since 9/11 traveling in the Muslim world. I've been
received as warmly and respectfully, for the most part, with a few exceptions,
as I was before 9/11.

You know, I went to Saudi Arabia, and I went to Saudi Arabia after having
written a series of really harshly critical columns about Saudi Arabia and
basically naming Saudi Arabia, I believe, as, you know, in large part
responsible for the hijackers that produced 9/11. Here's the reaction I got
when I got to Saudi Arabia. Because my columns have all appeared there in
Arabic in the Saudi press, every column I've done since 9/11 was run in
Sharkolausit(ph) and read or certainly published in Saudi Arabia. Here's the
reaction I got from Saudis who weren't sort of prepped ahead of time to be
nice to me. `Hi, I'm Tom Friedman.' `Tom Friedman? The one from The New
York Times? The one who writes about us?' `Yeah. Yeah, that's me.' `You're
here?' `Yeah, I'm here.' `They let you in?' `Yeah, yeah, they let me in.
I'm not here illegally.' `They gave you a visa?' `Yeah, they gave me a
visa.' `You know what? I hate everything you've written. Would you come to
my house for dinner? I'd really like to get some people together to talk
about it.'

GROSS: Really?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: That's been--that was the universal reaction I got in Saudi
Arabia. Real anger, but a real desire for people to explain themselves,
explain their faith, which they believed was being misinterpreted and
misconstrued, and a real desire to be understood.

GROSS: But I'm still wondering about anti-Semitism. When you're traveling
through the Arab world and through the Middle East now, are you seeing new
signs of anti-Semitism, new conspiracy theories, new publications of
anti-Semitic tracts?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, the fact that the vicious canard that 4,000 Jews were
somehow warned not to go to work in the World Trade Center on the morning of
September 11th is still widely believed in the Muslim world today is, I think,
a reflection of what's out there. I think that there is more anti-Semitism
and more conspiratorial thinking about how kind of the Jews, the media, Israel
and America have all gotten together to, you know, blame the Arab-Muslim world
for 9/11, or to put that part of the world down. I have certainly found more
of that out there today than ever before. It's very dangerous. It's very
corrosive. It's corrosive for their societies, because as long as you believe
those things, you're never gonna face your own problems. It's terribly
dangerous and corrosive, I believe, for America and for Jews because a whole
new generation will be suckled on it, and that's a whole new generation of
young people who might one day volunteer for the next hijacking.

GROSS: Well, Tom Friedman, thank you so much for talking with us, and
congratulations again on your third Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: It's great, Terry. It's great to talk to you. I just want to
say one last thing...

GROSS: Go ahead.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...which is that it goes back to your journalism point. You
know, this has been the most important story for my generation of journalists.
This is our Watergate, in a way, and the thing that has struck me about why I
think the quality of the journalism during this period, for the most part,
dealing with the whole post-9/11 world, has been so good is that I think
people really understand--I certainly understand, and I think many of my
colleagues do--that this is about our kids. This is about the world that our
kids are gonna grow up in, and we really better get it right. And that, I
think, certainly motivates me, and I think it motivates a lot of my colleagues
as well.

GROSS: Tom Friedman receives his third Pulitzer Prize tomorrow at a luncheon
on the Columbia University campus. It's for his post-September 11th columns.
His post-9/11 columns will be published this summer in a new book called
"Longitudes & Attitudes" that will also include journals of his travels around
the world.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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