The Buffalo News (Editorial)
April 5, 2010 - 12:00am

The problem that has developed between Israel and the United States is an offshoot of the same problem that divides Israel from the Palestinians: the lack of a two-state solution to the Mideast’s ongoing trauma.

A two-state solution is the only possible answer to the bloodshed and privation that have punished Israelis and Palestinians for decades. The only alternative is for people on both sides to continue killing one another, which is not a solution but a failure to adopt one.

The specific source of the current irritation between the United States and Israel was the surprise announcement, during a recent visit by Vice President Biden, that Israel planned to build 1,600 new apartments for Jews in east Jerusalem. Palestinians claim that section of the holy city but it is controlled by Israel, which captured it from Jordan in 1967. The international community has never recognized that fact, and thus views settlements in east Jerusalem as illegitimate.

But Israel did capture it. That’s the hard fact of this problem. Jerusalem is not Gaza and it’s not the West Bank, the international community’s denials notwithstanding. It’s not that strange for Israel to build housing there, because it is within its own borders.

But it is a provocation, and Israeli leaders are astute enough to understand that. It is especially provocative when the Israeli government, perhaps without planning to do so, announces it in a way that jams a thumb in the eye of the visiting American vice president and, thus, into the eye of the entire Obama administration.

Biden was unconcerned, and willing to let the incident blow over—but Obama and the State Department chose this opportunity to lay into the Israeli premier. Obama is not liked by the Israeli people, evidently with reason. They see the president as not willing to follow the road of friendship and cooperation that has existed with nearly all presidents since Israel’s founding.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says—perhaps correctly, certainly disingenuously— that building in east Jerusalem doesn’t upset the search for a two-state solution because Israel is going to keep east Jerusalem in any peace deal. Clearly it does influence the search for an acceptable arrangement because it enflames suspicions rather than easing them.

Israel and Palestine have been lost together in this violent wilderness longer than the 40 years Moses spent wandering. It will take more than a stubborn adherence to facts to find a way out. It will also take actions meant to show good faith, a quality that is too often lacking on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Israelis complain, justifiably, that they can’t make peace without a willing partner. Palestinians, it is plain, have not been that—and while any peace settlement usually guarantees a stop to killing by both sides, the Palestinian government cannot bring that to the peace table; Israelis would still face the threat of killings and kidnappings by Hamas, leaving Israel with legitimate security concerns even after a two-state solution.

But it’s hard to see how Israel’s timing of this new apartment construction will turn Palestinians into willing partners, or otherwise advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. Netanyahu needs to look for new ways to get past this diplomatic misstep and work toward talks that are, after all, essential to Israel’s future.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017