Now, I understand that some settlers have committed crimes. Some Jews have acted violently and some have, allegedly, uprooted olive trees belonging to their Palestinian neighbors. Well? To the extent that any Jews in the West Bank are committing crimes they should be arrested and prosecuted. I feel reasonably certain, tho, that there are people outside of the West Bank, who happen not to be Jewish, and who sometimes commit crimes, as well. I would even venture to guess that the occasional Palestinian commits a crime. But the mere presence of Jews in the West Bank is not what has undermined the possibility of negotiations.
What screwed up the possibility of negotiations was Barack Obama’s demand for a total freeze on settlement activity to begin with. By demanding a total freeze on settlements Obama demanded something that Netanyahu could not deliver without bringing down his coalition government. It was thus, in effect, nothing less than a demand that Bibi step down as the Prime Minister of Israel. Needless to say, Netanyahu was never going to comply with such a ridiculous demand from the American president, no head of state would, and the Israeli people backed him to the hilt.
By demanding a total settlement freeze Obama also forced Abbas into a very difficult position. Abbas, like all politicians, has his constituency to think of and given the realities of Palestinian politics he cannot be seen as being softer on Israel than the American president. His own position as chief of the Palestinian Authority is also at stake. To be seen as weaker on Israel than Barack Obama would have been political suicide... if not actual suicide. He couldn't do it, so he did not.
Nonetheless, President Obama fell flat on his face coming directly out of the gate. The demand for total settlement freeze has placed the kabash on negotiations and both sides are hardening their positions. Netanyahu is now demanding the presence of Israeli security forces along the border of Jordan in order to make sure that weaponry is not transported into the West Bank. For his part, Abbas is now claiming that the Palestinians will unilaterally declare a state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
So, what can Obama do now to get back on track toward a negotiated settlement? Some believe that the US should put further pressure on the Israelis, perhaps economic sanctions, but it is not the Israelis who are refusing to negotiate. It is the Palestinians who refuse to do so. Thus the thing to do is make prodigious use of both carrots and sticks to encourage the Palestinian leadership, sans Hamas, to come to the negotiating table.
Given the fact of occupation, and given the fact of Palestinian poverty, one would think that the Palestinian leadership would be eager for a state and for a normalization of economic relations with Israel. Unfortunately, neither the Palestinian leadership, nor the Arab leadership, has ever agreed to a Palestinian state at any moment when it counted. They have turned down offers of statehood in 1937, in 1947, in 2000, and most recently when Ehud Olmert offered Abbas one hundred percent of the Gaza, over ninety percent of the West Bank (with land swaps) and with parts of East Jerusalem as its capital.
It is difficult to see what more Olmert could have offered Abbas. (Tel Aviv, perhaps?) It makes me wonder if the Palestinian leadership truly want an autonomous state next to Israel? Or do they want the whole shebang? Further, it is unlikely that Netanyahu would be inclined to offer as much as Olmert did. The Palestinians, however, can have a state and should have a state and would get a state if they would simply sit down to negotiations and agree to the final status.
Israelis want peace, but somehow I do not see it happening so long as Obama’s government will not apply sufficient pressures and incentives on the Palestinian Authority. Usually the question is, what must Israel do in order to secure peace? Sometimes we have to ask a different question, though. Sometimes the question really should be, what must the Palestinians do in order to secure a state?
Agree to one.