As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Game Of Chicken In The Middle East

At the AIPAC conference, both the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Vice President called for a settlement freeze in the West Bank as a step toward peace in the region. Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have responded by saying "Um, no."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is beginning to implement, on the ground, what he talked about in the course of the election campaign. A high-ranking source close to Netanyahu said that the prime minister planned to unfreeze land for construction in the existing settlements for the purpose of natural growth.

He also said that as for the clash that could arise on this subject between him and US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu will tell the president that he does not intend to break promises made by the previous government and does not intend to build new settlements. "We are going to open the tap so that people can live," he said, only one day after the UN issued a report saying that there were contingency plans in Israel for building 30,000 housing units in the Etzion Bloc.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman yesterday expressed a similar position during his visit to Berlin. He said that it was premature to talk about an arrangement with the Palestinians that is based on "two states for two peoples."

Netanyahu's making a distinction without a difference. Settlement construction is settlement construction, and it deeply damages the peace process. Of course, the right-wing government in Israel wants no part of peace, so that follows logically.

Obama does, however, and this sets up an interesting showdown between the two leaders. Obama would be expected to hold the cards, but peace requires a partner. MJ Rosenberg has an interesting take:

The new president is committed to the two-state solution and intends to insist that the Israeli government not take actions that thwart that goal. That means moving against ever-expanding settlements (which the Israeli press today reports are about to be expanded even more by Netanyahu), easing the flow of goods in and out of Gaza, and removing checkpoints and other obstacles to Palestinian freedom of movement. The administration is also moving away from Israel's ironclad opposition to dealing with Hamas [...]

So is a clash inevitable?

In my opinion, no. That is because I believe that no Israeli government can successfully oppose a popular American president who sets out to pursue Arab-Israeli peace [...]

And not only because it is the United States that is the super power. It is also because President Obama will not be asking Israel to sacrifice any vital interest. On the contrary, in leading an effort to achieve peace, Obama will be advancing Israel's security, along with our own.

That is also why American Jews will rally behind him. It is not because they are indifferent to Israel's security but because they understand that maintaining the occupation undermines Israel's long-term survival.

Most people I know understand this, that from the basis of demographic reality, a two state solution is the only way to have a functioning Jewish Israeli state without apartheid, although on the extremes there are a few holdouts (with increasingly ugly views). But given this argument, and I urge you to read the whole thing, the issue of whether Obama will get a peace deal rests with Obama.

He is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu later this month. What will he decide?

...A key component of all of this is what to do about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Though everyone knows that Israel has nukes, they are not signatories, and this makes it very hard in the Muslim world for the United States to demand Iran's cooperation on their nuclear programs. Over time, I find it crucial to bring Israel and all the other states with weapons into the framework of the NPT, but obviously this will only bring more resistance from the Israeli government. In a typical Solomonic compromise, I could see Obama bargaining this away in exchange for progress on a two state solution.

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