President Obama was a big hit in speaking to a group of students in Istanbul this morning. He did
not pander and he did not speak in cliches. It's been a long time
since we've had a president who speaks clearly but with complicated
thoughts and in nuanced words.
He took on the intricate issues that affect Turkish-American relations, and there were no sweet promises. Again the assembly seemed to appreciate his candor.
And he added a significant trope to his discussion of the long and wearying conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The trope that he added to the palaver was "compromise." When the tiresome peace processors speak of negotiations they almost always mean concessions by Israel: territorial concessions, concessions on Jerusalem, demographic concessions, symbolic concessions, economic concessions, security concessions, historic concessions, moral concessions, concessions to Palestinian pride and to Palestinian shame. There is no concession that Israel has not tried, in one way or another, to meet. And there are forces in Israel which think that too much has already been forfeited. Of course, Palestinian expectations rise with every concession from Israel.
So that the notion, enunciated by the American president almost for the first time, that there are concrete concessions that the Palestinians have to make is almost a new phenomenon. The "land for peace" formula is a bankrupt idea. It doesn't work. What everybody needs but not everybody yet needs is "peace for peace."
The question then is: what must the Palestinians give up to secure tangible possibilities for statehood?
Yes, I know that there is much that they must accomplish among their to really become a nation and have a history as a people. But, whether we gloat or weep about these deficiencies, that's not our business. There are plenty of states that rule over populations that are neither a nation nor a people. I suspect that the Palestinians won't be the last of this unfortunate formula.
But since President Obama has put the idea of reciprocity on the table he is morally obliged to begin to make a list. And so is George Mitchell and Tony Blair and the busily intrusive European Union. The idea that Israel will give up a series of strategic advantages for recognition of its flag is nonsense.