Walter Russell Mead showed up before a full house yesterday at the New America Foundation to talk about the area where Obama has a greater open field to make a difference than any other: Israel/Palestine. I am skeptical about Mead, an Iraq war supporter who penned a dismissive review of Walt and Mearsheimer’s important Israel lobby book. He started off making the kind of arguments that sophisticated Greater Israel backers use: while of course peace is desirable, but the conflict is oh so very complicated, and many have tried very hard to solve it, and the American people (and not because of the Israel lobby) strongly back Israel, etc.

But I admit I was eventually taken in– coming to believe this guy really does understand how important and Israel-Palestinian settlement would be, for the people there and for us. What’s novel about Mead’s argument is his assertion that the US needs to work hard to bring all the Palestinian constituencies into support of a two-state solution, not just the West Bank bourgeoisie, but all the various diasporas–in Lebanon, the Gulf, Jordan, and indeed in the New World. Someone who fled the Haifa in 1948 and whose family has been living in a refugee camp in Gaza or Syria wouldn’t gain much in real terms from from a two-state solution. The right of return is a legitimate Palestinian concern, even as there are more creative and practical ways to acknowledge it than the return of millions of Palestinians to Israel in its 1967 borders.

Mead’s point is that addressing legitimate Palestinian concerns broadly would help break down Israeli worries that as soon as the Palestinians had a West Bank state, they would begin agitating for more. I liked that Mead used the Britain-Irish battle as a template; It’s a good example of how a seemingly irresoluble conflict can be beaten into the ground with compromise, time, more compromise. Though Meade was good neocon enabler during Iraq, this view is exactly opposite the neocon position that the Palestinians just need to be beaten down until they acknowledge defeat.

Mead’s piece in Foreign Affairs is here; I should blog later on its major drawback of ignoring how difficult but vital it will be for American statesmen (Obama, that’s you) to deal with Israel bloc of aggressive and sometimes fanatical settlers, a bloc which–empowered by billions American dollars,–has more than doubled in size and strength since the Oslo Accords.