Now that it is unlikely a two-state arrangement will be the "solution" to the conflict in Israel/Palestine, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is talking it up. And the Arab League has helpfully offered to adjust its 2002 peace proposal to allow for flexibility on the 1967 boundaries. Ironically, however, Haaretz reports that Fatah leaders are now backing one state from the river to the sea. Israel has also moved on. Those elders who might have been amenable back in the 1980s to an equitable deal with the Palestinians have passed from the scene, replaced not only by Benjamin Netanyahu, but by newcomers Yair Lapid and the ultra-religious Naftali Bennett. They do not see a peace agreement as advantageous for Israel. The relationship with the United States is secure, no matter what they do, so why negotiate? It might make a difference if President Obama would "put his foot down," as Alon Ben Meir suggests, and say the relationship with the United States is at risk, but this he will not do. He is constrained by domestic goals, primarily avoiding Democratic losses in 2014. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama will not tether his legacy to peace in the Middle East.
The Israeli hardliners have a point. The day of demographic reckoning lies over the far horizon, in a politically unimaginable future. They discount the metaphor of Israel as St. Exupery’s boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant. Many analysts have warned that a merger of the two populations will be not a Jewish state, but Greater Palestine, the home of its citizens (see Lustick on Zion, this issue). As Chas Freeman asked at our January Capitol Hill conference, why has the United States not tried harder to "save" the Jewish state by insisting on a two-state deal? The question has rarely even come up for discussion in elite forums.
This problem was the core of our recent Capitol Hill conference featuring Stephen Walt, Philip Weiss and Henry Siegman. Walt, co-author with John Mearsheimer of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007), was an ideal speaker on the subject of how to expand debate on the future of Israel and Palestine, given the book’s content and the circumstances of its publication. And this was the perfect time. Chuck Hagel’s recent Senate confirmation hearing has entered the annals of classic farce (seeYouTube and Hulu for the parody). The climate was quite different in 2006, when a Mearsheimer-Walt article on the Lobby was spiked by The Atlantic and picked up by The London Review of Books (republished, with its 227 footnotes, in the fall 2006 issue of Middle East Policy; it is still the most popular item on our website).
Mearsheimer and Walt have now been "mainstreamed," as Glenn Greenwald puts it. It happened rather quickly, an indication that the truth was already known, but people were intimidated from defying political correctness. It simply was not done by those who wanted to be viable in public life. Finally, they were empowered to speak out about the problem of Israel. Now, as Philip Weiss puts it, the brand called Zionism "is Enron." Even Alan Dershowitz, America’s leading Zionist partisan, who refers to anti-Zionists as anti-Semites, admits the battle is lost. His data points: experiences on American campuses and in European venues generally. The renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking has just refused to attend an academic conclave in Israel because of the military occupation.
This new lack of fear has been a long time coming. I am writing on the very day of the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinians from their ancestral homeland. And the dispossession goes on, "in suits and with a great calm, house by house, even village by village, through jurisprudence and law and under the banner of Israeli democracy" (Adam Horowitz, mondoweiss.net, May 15), brought to you under the protection and with the full backing of the U.S. government. Yet there is little outrage among Americans of influence or any popular constituency. The mainstream media still whitewash U.S. and Israeli offences (crimes) against the Palestinians and seldom mention their catastrophe. This is slowly changing, as nonviolent resistance takes hold in the West Bank. Everyone has a right to protest the theft of his land, house, animals and olive trees.
Israel versus Palestine is a conflict that Americans have some control over and some responsibility for, unlike the catastrophe in Syria, though there is a great deal of justified outrage in the United States about it. The images of the refugees recall news photographs from 1948, and aiding them should be the responsibility of those who can afford to help. But some famous voices in policy and media, such as Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton and Bill Keller of The New York Times, having learned nothing from Afghanistan and Iraq, are calling for the United States to "do something, anything" about the carnage (see Abu Ahmad, this issue). One Syria specialist, Andrew Tabler of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, puts it this way: "The problem here is we react so slowly. There have been many well-thought-out plans, but they address a certain context. Then the context changes, we see the situation as rapidly deteriorating, and the recommendations are no longer so finely tuned." In other words, nothing will "work," and the pessimism of Joshua Landis seems more and more like realism (Middle East Policy, spring 2012, Vol. XIX, No. 1). The power struggle will take Syrians decades to thrash out.
It is almost possible today, three generations from 1948, to imagine a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians. A compromise between the Assad regime and its enemies will be more difficult. The Western powers do not want to arm the al-Nusra front, the local al-Qaeda franchise; however — Catch-22 — the secular fighters are apparently incapable of "winning" without them. According to the latest New York Times reports, the country is divided into three cantons; the regime is not losing, but no faction can win. And a well-placed bullet will not save the day; an oligarchy is in charge, fighting for their lives.
Washington’s bête-noir and Israel’s rival for regional hegemony, Iran, is also part of this geostrategic contest. Will Tehran be included in the peace talks that Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, have recently put on the world’s diplomatic agenda (see Katz on Russia-Syria)? Iran is helping the Syrian regime, as are Iraq, Hezbollah and other coreligionists, so they will have a say in whether the fighting stops (see Ataie on Iran-Lebanon-Syria). Will this be another exercise in futility, in which Washington refuses to speak to an enemy until it first recognizes Israel’s right to exist or renounces some prior behavior? This may be a moot point, if Syria is beyond U.S. diplomatic reach. Israel/Palestine is not, of course. Besides, to quote Henry Siegman, if the Palestinians start working toward a single state, "Israelis may well revisit their opposition to a two-state accord."