As President Obama meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House today, here are two points to chew on.
Last Thursday Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg that if Israel doesn’t make a deal now it will face international “fallout,” i.e., delegitimization, and the U.S. will have limited ability to protect Israel from that process. We’ve already lost Europe, Obama says darkly.
And if Netanyahu thinks he has the “right” alternative to the two-state solution, he should tell us, Obama says almost challengingly.
But then you have Michael Oren, Netanyahu’s former ambassador, speaking to the Times of Israel last week in the most sanguine manner about the likely failure of the two-state solution and saying, The Palestinians have a fallback plan– a binational state– and We also have a fallback plan, annexation.
Taken together, these assertions suggest a collision course (and to cite the polling that Joy Reid just mentioned on MSNBC, Americans would support one democratic state over continued occupation).
First, here’s the president talking to Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg last week about a future without the two-state paradigm:
What we also know is that Israel has become more isolated internationally. We had to stand up in the Security Council in ways that 20 years ago would have involved far more European support, far more support from other parts of the world when it comes to Israel’s position. And that’s a reflection of a genuine sense on the part of a lot of countries out there that this issue continues to fester, is not getting resolved, and that nobody is willing to take the leap to bring it to closure.
In that kind of environment, where you’ve got a partner on the other side who is prepared to negotiate seriously, who does not engage in some of the wild rhetoric that so often you see in the Arab world when it comes to Israel, who has shown himself committed to maintaining order within the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority and to cooperate with Israelis around their security concerns — for us to not seize this moment I think would be a great mistake. I’ve said directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu he has an opportunity to solidify, to lock in, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel that is at peace with its neighbors and… with permanent borders. …
[As to what Obama has told Netanyahu:]
What I’ve said to him privately is the same thing that I say publicly, which is the situation will not improve or resolve itself. This is not a situation where you wait and the problem goes away. There are going to be more Palestinians, not fewer Palestinians, as time goes on. There are going to be more Arab-Israelis, not fewer Arab-Israelis, as time goes on.
And for Bibi to seize the moment in a way that perhaps only he can, precisely because of the political tradition that he comes out of and the credibility he has with the right inside of Israel, for him to seize this moment is perhaps the greatest gift he could give to future generations of Israelis….
I have not yet heard, however, a persuasive vision of how Israel survives as a democracy and a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors in the absence of a peace deal with the Palestinians and a two-state solution. Nobody has presented me a credible scenario….
It’s maintenance of a chronic situation. And my assessment, which is shared by a number of Israeli observers, I think, is there comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices. Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? …
I am being honest that nobody has provided me with a clear picture of how this works in the absence of a peace deal. …
I believe that Bibi is strong enough that if he decided this was the right thing to do for Israel, that he could do it. If he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible….
[W]hat I do believe is that if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time — if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.
[GOLDBERG: Willingness, or ability?]
Not necessarily willingness, but ability to manage international fallout is going to be limited. And that has consequences.
Look, sometimes people are dismissive of multilateral institutions and the United Nations and the EU [European Union] and the high commissioner of such and such. And sometimes there’s good reason to be dismissive. There’s a lot of hot air and rhetoric and posturing that may not always mean much. But in today’s world, where power is much more diffuse, where the threats that any state or peoples face can come from non-state actors and asymmetrical threats, and where international cooperation is needed in order to deal with those threats, the absence of international goodwill makes you less safe. The condemnation of the international community can translate into a lack of cooperation when it comes to key security interests. It means reduced influence for us, the United States, in issues that are of interest to Israel. It’s survivable, but it is not preferable.
Now here’s Oren glibly discussing Israel’s response to a two-state collapse:
“However, the Palestinians have intimated that if they can’t reach a negotiated solution with us they then have a Plan B, and their Plan B is a binational state. And I think it’s important that we also have a Plan B…
“[G]oing to international institutions is only the beginning of their Plan B, we have to understand that…. Their Plan B includes international sanctions, targeting our economy, completely delegitimizing us in the world.”
Therefore, Israelis would be ill advised to sit around and wait for the Palestinians to corner them. “If we declare our borders, that creates a de-facto situation of two nation states recognized by the UN — we may not recognize one another, but they’re already recognized by the UN — that have a border dispute. And we would be one of dozens of pairs of countries in the world that have a border dispute.”
Oren won’t say what the borders look like, but “the principle is maximum number of Israelis [Jews] within the State of Israel and maximum protection of Israel’s security.” Devouring the West Bank obviously:
“[W]hat are [Israel’s] defensible borders, what are the borders that encompass the maximum number of Israeli settlers? What would enable us to reduce, to the greatest possible extent, our control over the Palestinians? In any such move, Israel would of course maintain its military presence in crucial areas. And it would also ensure the continued unity of Jerusalem.”
Thanks to Annie Robbins.