It’s conniption time on Capitol Hill, as the Obama administration is demonstrating quietly there will be at least some consequences for stonewalling the administration’s effort actually to forge, or at least begin to forge, a two-state peace settlement in Israel-Palestine. The first shoe to drop was a State Department spokesperson’s almost passive acknowledgement that no, the United States is not going to cut off all relations with the Palestinian Authority because of its efforts to heal its breach with Hamas by forming a unity “technocratic” government.
Israel has been complaining loudly, along with its allies in Congress. Its stated objections are two-fold: Hamas rejects the two state solution, and in many of its public statements, calls for the end of Israel; Hamas has committed terrorist acts against Israeli civilians, particularly in late 1990s as the Oslo process was winding down.
These are obviously serious issues: there won’t be a two-state solution if the Palestinian side doesn’t seek one, with all the recognition of Israel’s permanence that such a solution implies. But wait a second. The United States has obviously been willing to deal with Israel’s government—more than deal with it, subsidize it, treat it as a valued strategic ally, etc.—despite the fact that Israel’s Likud Charter calls for Israeli sovereignty over the entire West Bank, and Israel’s government includes ministers who themselves are sworn enemies of the two-state solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election platform called explicitly for there to be no Palestinian state on the West Bank and for exclusive Israeli control over Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s coalition partner Naftali Bennett has long called for Israeli annexation of most of the West Bank, perhaps leaving the Palestinian towns as “self-governed” bantustans. If the congressmen now jumping up and down about the inclusion of Hamas “technocrats” in a unity Palestinian government raised any objection when an Israeli government included ministers calling for annexation of the West Bank and no Palestinian state, they did so very quietly.
Terrorism is also a serious issue. But, sad to say, there are many leaders and factions in the Mideast who have engaged in terrorism, including, of course former Israeli prime ministers and Likud leaders Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Beyond the Mideast, IRA leaders are welcome in Washington, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. If they seek them, Palestinians can find numerous precedents for the evolution from terrorist to freedom fighter to venerated statesman.
We are left to acknowledge the beginnings of a real breach between American policies and those of Israel. American politicians will deny it: John Kerry has said again and again, there must be “no daylight” between Washington and Israel—Kerry reiterated the phrase just last year. But the phrase has begun to sound false, more and more like the ritualistic protests of a couple on the way to a break-up. Obama’s true feelings came through in an open-mike moment when he told the president of France (who had called Netanyahu a liar) that he had to talk to him on the phone all the time. Netanyahu’s feelings about the peace process came over in this record of his recent talk before a Likud audience—where he mocked the peace process and noted how much settlement building had progressed under his government. You just had to know how to manipulate the Americans, he said, easily enough done.
But the daylight is there. The United States will deal with a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas. The European countries will do the same—none of them are cutting off ties. Israel will have established that it can call loudly for something and no one listens. It’s far from clear that Israel wants the Palestinian Authority to collapse—if it did, Israel would be left with the formal obligations of an occupying power, which it doesn’t really want.
It’s a long process. Under Obama, the United States seems to have finally recognized that it faces the prospect of Israel becoming a full-fledged apartheid state, rather than an occupying power seeking to get the best deal in return for giving up occupied territories. Does the United States want to have an alliance with an apartheid state be the centerpiece of its Mideast strategy? Under Obama, the answer is no. Somehow I doubt his successors will answer all that differently.