04/04/2012 04:19 pm ET Updated Jun 04, 2012

Thomas Friedman, the Singapore Model, and the Palestinians

Thomas Friedman rewarded his loyal New York Times readers with a double header today, "two for the price of one," referring to his take on the current Middle East, which "it is impossible to capture... all with one opinion."

So, the famous columnist starts by praising the latest call of Marwan Barhouti, jailed in Israel for "involvement in killing Israelis," for a non-violent resistance to Israel. Then, Friedman goes on to advise the Palestinians to boycott Israel as part of their non-violent struggle, but "accompany every boycott... or rock they throw at Israel" with a map showing how, while doing so, they are ready to accept only 95% of the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and swap the remaining 5% for land inside pre-1967 Israel. Well, in Friedman's world throwing rocks at Israel is non-violent. Rocks, as he should know, are not thrown at states, they are thrown at human beings and they kill human beings. Not in the flashy neighborhoods where Friedman spends his time, but definitely in Israel, as well as in the West Bank. There are organizations and individuals who can provide him with names of such victims. I am skeptical though whether he is really interested in knowing their names.

Then, Friedman moves on to another of his favorite subjects, the "Arab awakening," which he did not predict in his extensive writing about the Middle East, and yet knew, from its very beginning, how it would affect the future there, in particular the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In his writings about these issues, the word "settlements" figures prominently, and the idea is to somehow connect every thing that happens in the Middle East to Israel, or more precisely, to its misdeeds. Friedman is honest enough to admit that the "Arab awakening" may be the outcome of Arab autocratic regimes and their failures, but then there is again Israel, as he tells us that now an Israeli-Palestinian peace is more urgent than ever. This is mainly because of the rise of Islamists in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria.

So, Friedman pontificates to the native Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians that they need "a greater incentive than ever before to create an alternative model in the West Bank -- a Singapore -- to show that they, together, can give birth to a Palestinian state where Arab Muslims and Christians, men and women, can thrive in a secular but religiously respectful, free market, democratic context, next to a Jewish state." No doubt a desirable vision, and according to Friedman one which is necessary and possible, because unlike Asia, the Arabs lack a good regional model to follow, so if they do not have one, here he comes to the rescue to sell us the Singapore model.

Let's deal with the model and the intellectual mindset which is behind it all. First, the "Arab awakening," which Friedman praises so much, led to Islamist victories in democratic elections taking place in Tunisia and Egypt. What does Friedman know that these people do not know about their problems and how to solve them? Then, let us remember that Singapore is indeed a great model for economic development and internal organization, but not exactly for a classic democracy, as the People Action Party (PAP) has been in power for over 50 years, and counting...

Beyond that, Singapore is clearly a religiously respectful state, but the role of religion in public life there is totally different than that which has existed for 14 centuries in the Islamic Middle East. Buddhist and Islamic concepts of religion and state are not exactly compatible, and this is to put it very mildly...

Friedman forgets also that there was a local Middle East model for co-existence, without coercion between Islam and democracy, that of Kemalist Turkey, a model which tragically enough is on the retreat in its birth place, Turkey itself, with the growing domination of the ruling AKP Islamic party there.

Then there is the mindset which leads a pure liberal as Friedman to believe in cultural transplant: just bring Singapore to the Middle East, and all will suddenly look so much nicer and better. Typical Western arrogance of "we know better"; something that is shared by good-hearted liberals, and G-D forbid, neo-cons, who engaged in nation-building in the Middle East, of course along the lines of their brand of Western thinking. The results are well in display in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last but not least, Singapore has traditionally been very friendly to Israel, having very extensive commercial relations with Israel. They do not engage in boycotts over there, so what do they know that even Friedman does not know?