Benjamin Netanyahu’s phony flexibility on a two-state solution was always transparent–and it’s now becoming apparent that Israel is the prime impediment to progress in the Middle East. Over the weekend, the State Department asked Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren to convey U.S. displeasure over continued Israeli settlement expansion in Jerusalem, which Netanyahu rejected out of hand. It also seems clear–according to U.S., Syrian and Israeli sources I’ve spoken with in the past week–that Israel is slow-walking peace talks with Syria (mostly because it doesn’t want to give back the Golan Heights).
The notion that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel seems to me right and fair. But it is also the capital of Palestine. The Likudnik notion that Israel has the exclusive rights to a united Jerusalem seems as foolish as the Palestinian notion that those who were displaced in 1948 still have a right to return to their old properties in Israel.
George Mitchell is returning to the region next week. There is progress–and the promise of real breakthroughs–in several aspects of the peace process: Hamas seems willing to play, the Syrians are far more cooperative, the other Arabs might be cajoled into taking steps toward the recognition of Israel, Iran’s influence in the area has diminished markedly. But not only is the Israeli government being uncooperative, it’s actually becoming more intractable.
No one is saying that Israel should capitulate. And certainly, the Palestinians need to get their act together, complete their internal negotiations healing the Fatah-Hamas rift. But the peace deal remains what it always was: a return to 1967 borders, more or less; Arab recognition of the Jewish state; a real Palestinian state, with sovereign rights; no right of return for Palestinians; Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine–with international supervision of the religious sites. It is a longshot, as always. But the Obama Administration–unlike almost any other in recent history–is intent on keeping up the pressure, working hard for a settlement. It’s time for Netanyahu–who recently called David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel “self-hating Jews”–to recognize that the Bush neoconservative-evangelical alliance is gone. It’s time for him to adjust to the new diplomatic reality.