Jeffrey Goldberg
The Atlantic (Opinion)
January 29, 2013 - 1:00am

We here at the Goldblog glass-enclosed nerve center are getting a lot of heat from our right about our assertion that not much has changed on the Israeli political landscape, especially in relation to issues concerning the Palestinians.

A number of our interlocutors have gone so far as to suggest that Goldblog hates Jews, or hates himself, or hates that aspect of himself that is Jewish, for asserting that, while the Palestinians have an enormous role to play in bringing about compromise, it is actually Israel that occupies, and colonizes, the territory needed to make real that compromise. Well, to this, I say, as I've said before, that it is pro-Israel to be in favor of a settlement freeze, and in favor of jump-started negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. There is no other way out of the trap in which Israel finds itself. Most Israelis, according to the polls, believe in preserving both their country's Jewish character, and its democracy. This is not possible to achieve so long as millions of Palestinians are ruled, against their will, by Israel.

I am a chronic optimist (which, in the Middle East context, means that I don't believe the world will end tomorrow) but the recent Israeli election results did not fill me with the belief that renewed, meaningful negotiations are around the corner. In my Bloomberg View column, I outline some reasons for pessimism (as well as some reasons for optimism).

Here are a few reasons to be optimistic:

1. The inclusion of Lapid in Netanyahu's next coalition government -- which seems like a certainty -- means the prime minister will have to accede to Lapid's demand that he jump- start negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas.

2. U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe -- particularly Jordan's King Abdullah II and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron -- are desperate to see President Barack Obama retake the initiative and pressure Netanyahu and Abbas to begin talks in earnest, and they're beginning to lobby Obama intensively.

3. Senator John Kerry, Obama's nominee to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, is deeply invested in finding a way to restart negotiations. His power is not negligible, and perhaps he has fresher ideas than the previous generation of Middle East peace negotiators, typified by the longtime diplomat Dennis Ross.

4. The Palestinian Authority still exists. This is something of a miracle. It hasn't yet been replaced by Hamas, or by chaos.

There are a few more in the column. Here are a few reasons to feel pessimistic:

1. Netanyahu is still Netanyahu. Under great pressure from the U.S., Netanyahu did endorse, in principle, the idea of two states for two peoples in 2009. But he has done nothing since to advance that goal. He has frozen settlement growth temporarily - - again under intense U.S. pressure -- but he invariably unfreezes the settlements, and his government seems to be devising new ways to prevent the birth of a Palestinian state each day.

2. Abbas is still Abbas. Netanyahu isn't exactly rejecting the extended hand of a flawless peace partner. Abbas is weak and vacillating, and has proved himself adept at rejecting reasonable offers from Israeli interlocutors.

3. The Palestinians are still engaged in a civil war. Lest we forget, Hamas, a group that seeks Israel's destruction, is still in control of half of the would-be state of Palestine, and it hasn't made up with the Palestinian Authority, which controls some of the West Bank. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Israel would make concessions to a Palestinian Authority that isn't in a position to rule Palestine.

At this point, I actually do feel pretty comprehensively pessimistic, for many reasons, but in large part because I don't think Netanyahu is prepared to take even the most moderate sort of confidence-building steps -- such as stopping the rapid expansion of settlements on territory that would have to be part of an independent Palestinian state -- needed to set the stage for negotiations. A few years from now, when the two-state idea is dead and buried, I'm afraid we will look back on Netanyahu and curse him for his blindness. Right now, he has time to design an orderly transition out of the West Bank, but he's doing everything in his power to keep the Palestinian state from being born.

UPDATE: Yair Rosenberg sent this along -- Yossi Beilin, the former peace negotiator, arguing that Netanyahu might be willing to go for provisional borders:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state in provisional borders, even before his conditions for a final-status agreement are met, former minister and veteran peace activist Yossi Beilin said.

"I don't think that Netanyahu, who is far from being a warmonger -- he's a very cautious person -- [is ready to commit to] a permanent solution. Not because he doesn't want it -- all of us want it -- but because he's not ready to pay the price," Beilin said Monday night. "But to speak about a provisional border with the Palestinians, this is something that I heard from him that we would be ready to do it."

Speaking in English at a debate in front of Jewish-American leaders visiting Jerusalem, Beilin said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders are presently not ready to agree to terms for a permanent settlement. Yet both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would be willing to go ahead with an interim agreement, which would include a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines with land swaps, so that major settlement blocs would remain in Israel, Beilin said. The delicate questions of Jerusalem and refugees would not be addressed immediately but held for final-status talks down the line, according to Beilin. 


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