Israel Must Bolster PA in Wake of Arab Spring, NY Times Column Says

In op-ed, leading columnist Thomas L. Friedman urges PM Netanyahu to release Palestinian tax money, bolster PA's Salam Fayyad's moderate regime.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to withhold Palestinian tax money is dangerous to Israel, leading New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman said in a new op-ed on Tuesday.

Friedman's comment came as Netanyahu's cabinet appeared set to hand over the $100 million in frozen funds, a month after the forum of eight senior ministers decided to withhold tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, AP

While Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman remains completely against the move, and intends to fight it, he has retracted his threat to dismantle the coalition if the funds are indeed released.

Israeli security officials have argued for the releasing of the frozen tax funds, arguing that the PA needed the money to pay the salaries of their security personnel.

Writing in a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday, Friedman severely criticized Israel's decision to sanction a moderate Palestinian leadership, adding that while Netanyahu's fears of a post-Arab Spring Islamic extremism were founded, the solution could not be opposing the PA.

"Netanyahu’s analysis of the dangers facing Israel is valid, and things could still get worse. What is wrong is Netanyahu’s diagnosis of how it happened and his prescription of what to do about it — and those blind spots could also be very dangerous for Israel," Friedman wrote.

Faced with a volatile Mideast environment, the New York Times writer added, Netanyahu had to move closer to moderate, democratic elements within the Palestinian leadership, exemplified by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

"Instead of rewarding him, Israel has been withholding $100 million in Palestinian tax revenues that Fayyad needs — in punishment for the Palestinians pressing for a state at the UN — to pay the security forces that help to protect Israel. That is crazy," Friedman added.

"Israel’s best defense is to strengthen Fayyadism — including giving Palestinian security services more areas of responsibility to increase their legitimacy and make clear that they are not the permanent custodians of Israel’s occupation," the op-ed continued.

Faced with the specter of increased democracy in the Arab world, Friedman culminated, the worse thing Israel's leaders could do is doing nothing in face of change, saying that that could be "the greatest danger of all for Israel."

"[T]to wake up one day and discover that, in response to the messy and turbulent Arab democratic awakening, the Jewish state sacrificed its own democratic character," Friedman added.