It’s a tribute to the tenacity of old ideas and outdated frameworks that the political mainstream reacted so predictably, when Benjamin Netanyahu said, just before Tuesday’s election, that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.
The left evinced a perfunctory horror that he would say this, attributing it to a hard lurch to the right to appeal to “extremists” among Israeli voters. The left characterized the right as “downplaying” Netanyahu’s comment, careful to make sure that what casual readers hear is the left’s theme that such a statement needs downplaying.
The Obama administration has rushed out to “admonish” Netanyahu and affirm U.S. support for the creation of a Palestinian state. Spokesman Josh Earnest intimated that Team Obama would have to “reevaluate” its approach going forward, now that Netanyahu has announced his opposition:
And while Earnest said Obama would be calling Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory, he acknowledged the U.S. would have to re-evaluate the best way to bring about a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a cornerstone of U.S. Mideast policy for years. In a veer to the right just before the election, Netanyahu reversed his former position and said he now opposes the creation of a separate Palestinian state.
In light of the administration’s continued commitment to a “two-state solution,” this comes off as yet another veiled threat to Israel.
Ho hum. Given the track record of Obama’s unveiled threats to recalcitrant foreigners, Netanyahu’s worries haven’t increased that much.
But the more important point is that Netanyahu said no more than what the sensible observer should have been saying for several years now. In effect, it’s what a number of American Republicans have actually said in the last two days (as opposed to “downplaying” Netanyahu’s point). The Oslo process – the framework for negotiating a two-state solution – is dead, and for good reason: the conditions for it no longer exist.
If Oslo wasn’t dead before Mahmoud Abbas shot it in the heart in 2011, by making his unilateral statehood bid in the UN, it was afterward. (Unilateral pursuit of a final-status “solution” is a stipulated violation of Oslo.) Abbas has continued on that path in the years since, thwarted basically by the U.S. veto on the Security Council.
But there is plenty more to militate against a resurrection of Oslo. Fatah is now in a unity government with Hamas, which continues to attack Israel – with rocket barrages as well as terror in the streets – and has provoked with those attacks three major military actions since late 2008, as well as a number of minor ones. That alone makes Fatah a non-credible “peace partner.”
Netanyahu implied this key concern in his response after the initial disclaimer about a Palestinian state:
In an interview published Monday on the NRG news website, Netanyahu said withdrawing from occupied areas to make way for a Palestinian state would only ensure that territory will be taken over by Islamic extremists. When asked if that means a Palestinian state will not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu said “indeed.”
The prime minister doubled down on his remarks in a phone interview with Israel’s Channel 10 television after casting his ballot Tuesday, saying that any state established alongside Israel would “attack us with rockets … Who wants such a thing?”
Who indeed? But there’s more. The Arab Spring has entirely undone the former security stasis of the region Israel inhabits. Through both its first-order effects (e.g., Syria) and its second-order effects (the rise of ISIS, new vacuums for Iran to fill), the Arab Spring has materially transformed Israel’s own security situation. It’s not what it was four years ago. It’s not even what it was two years ago.
The vulnerabilities Israel would be opening herself to by accepting a questionable Palestinian statehood deal – and there is no such thing as a non-questionable deal – have become too great to accept.
The following is the most accurate way to see the issue. Just as the proposed Obama deal on Iran’s nuclear program would pave the way to a bomb for Iran, so any creation of a Palestinian state would pave the way, under today’s conditions, for both Iran and Islamic State to maneuver into the territory of that state, and pose an immediate and catastrophic threat to Israel.
The mainstream media are of course depicting Netanyahu as having changed his tune about a Palestinian state for cynical political reasons. In fact, reality has changed comprehensively since he last spoke on the subject. He’d be a cynical and irresponsible leader of Israel if he had not changed his framing of policy.
Israel has resoundingly returned Netanyahu to his leadership role, in spite of Obama’s best efforts to get out the anti-Netanyahu vote. Besides ensuring that Israel won’t agree to any bad Palestinian-statehood deals, this also ensures that Obama doesn’t have a free hand to pave Iran’s path to a bomb.
The world can’t breathe easy, by any means. But the sealing of our fate has been staved off. With a Netanyahu government in power, there is still one card left to play against the near-term prospect of a radical, nuclear-armed Iran.