There’s a fair amount of twitching going on in the Middle East this week in advance of Barack Obama’s address to the Islamic world in Cairo on Thursday. Much of it has to do with the expectation that Obama will put some pressure on the Israelis to stop the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian territories. The Netanyahu government is resisting such a step, arguing a technical point: that some of the settlements, especially those around Jerusalem, will remain in Israeli hands after any peace deal, and should be allowed some “natural” expansion. Sorry, but that is an evasion and a bad faith evasion at that. Settlements need to be frozen, no exceptions, right now. Indeed, the need for natural expansion in some of these towns would, theoretically, put pressure on Israel to move with more alacrity toward a peace deal so that people who want to build on extra rooms or extra floors would be able to do so.
The fact is, Israel has to do much more than freeze settlements: it needs to dismantle them, and open up the West Bank roads exclusively used by Jewish settlers to Palestinian use; and tear down the barrier wall in any locale that doesn’t conform to the 1967 green line. It certainly needs to send a clear message to the extremists who are rioting on the West Bank today, in support of their illegal outposts–that this sort of behavior will no longer be tolerated. If Israel is going to demand–rightly–that the Palestinians control their terrorists, Israel is going to have to crack down on its own provocateurs.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are proving themselves every bit as incapable of statehood as they have in the past, with Fatah and Hamas having battles over the weekend. Although Israel–and, quite possibly, Egypt–would like to proceed with negotiations excluding Hamas, no peace, no Palestianian state, is possible without Hamas participation…and, as I’ve written here in the past, the United States should be moving, informally at first, to talk to Hamas and see if we can mediate between the Palestinian factions in order to move the Israel-Palestinian negotiations in gear.
There is, of course, some fairly predictable bleating going among the winguts and American Likudniks about the “failure” of Obama’s diplomatic initiatives. But they’ve barely started–and they will take time.
Finally, there was some very good news lower down in the Times piece:
In other developments on Sunday, the Israeli cabinet rejected a bill aimed at Israel’s Arab minority that would have required a loyalty oath for citizenship. This means the bill, championed by the Yisrael Beiteinu Party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has little chance of passing in the Israeli Parliament. Lawmakers could still sponsor an independent bill on the issue, but it would not have the government’s backing.
It’s nice to know that there Lieberman remains, despite his participation in the government, an Israeli outlier.
Update: A few weeks ago, Marty Peretz of the New Republic wrote that my position on Israel was held merely to gain access to cocktail parties on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I’ve had pretty much the same views for 30 years–you could look it up–and I’ve never been particularly popular in those circles (as Marty well knows, since he’s published me about a dozen times over the past 25 years) but it is part of the American Likudnik bully persona to find perjorative rationales for any Jews who dare oppose their extreme and dangerous positions. But no matter: I hold Peretz in higher regard than he does me. I assume he comes by his views honestly. They are prohibitively creepy views: Israel always right, Arabs always subhuman. And today he jumps into the settlement debate with this bit of wisdom:
But the idea of stopping all construction in all settlements means that once again the Israelis will be ceding something in advance and for nothing in return.
Wait a minute. Israel is doing something illegal here. It is taking territory that the rest of the world, without exception, considers Palestinian. This is like saying that someone who steals your car is entitled to keep it unless you agree to give him something else. The best thing to do when you’re doing something illegal–unless additional thievery is on your mind–is to stop doing it. Period.