Even the New York Times, for which Mahmoud Abbas has been a virtual hero in recent years, seems to have run out of patience with him. It was apropos his Washington Post interview with Jackson Diehl about which I posted a spine on Friday: "In the West Bank We Have a Good Reality...We Are Having a Good Life." If that is so, one is tempted to ask: about what are they belly-aching so much? But, of course, life in the West Bank is not exactly easy.
The Times commented in a Saturday editorial that Abbas' words actually demonstrated a "depressing passivity" in tackling the situation at hand. That fact is that Abbas has not actually been pro-active for years. So here is the comment that provoked the paper's editorialists: "Until Israel agrees to freeze settlements and recognize the two-state solution...until then, we can't talk to anyone." What Abbas was saying is everything is up to Bibi which it is not..
The two-state solution is a non-issue, Israeli governments having for years agreed to the formulation. The question is what kind of two-state solution which has hardly been confronted and never agreed upon, not even at the breezy hand-shake on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993. (I hasten to remind my readers that I didn't attend because I thought it was a fraudulent event, and I wrote that in an editorial shortly after. Was I not right?) The matters to be negotiated now are the modalities of a two-state agreement. The Palestinians have always known what they want: every inch of territory lost in the 1967 war. Then, they'll see what they will fight over that was lost in 1948-1949.
But peace-processing is eternal...with interruptions. We are now at the beginning of another one of those passages during which the American president will take on the role of a match-maker. His first steps, however, have been gargantuan missteps. To be sure, the Netanyahu government is shaky on many issues including the all-important budget to which the prime minister is trying to attach a value added taxes on food, very unpopular even in his own party. Yet Obama's insistence on a complete building freeze on all of the settlements has instantaneously unified virtually all of Israel behind Bibi -at least on this matter. And it will extend to other issues, too.
Both Obama and secretary Clinton muddled the whole settlement problem by not making distinctions. Not that I think distinctions resolve the matter. But there are areas of Jerusalem seized during the Six Day War (started in the city, just in case the president hasn't internalized the fact, by Jordan) that have been Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods virtually ever since. A settlement freeze destroys every natural process in demography. This is really chutzpah.
Some really nice left-wing people live in these areas, and many of them are quite willing to take enormous concessions upon Israel. What they are not willing to do is leave their homes and break up communities that probably include 150,000 of the capitol's Jewish population of half a million. In fact, this is one of those cases in which hyperbole is reasonable: this will not happen until hell freezes over.
Who allowed Obama to make this decision? Maybe foreign policy "realists." Or maybe his own hubris. Of course, soon -after his Cairo oration, perhaps- he will correct his blunder about Jewish Jerusalem. And if he doesn't? He will have shown that he fails to grasp that facts have changed since the war that started 42 years ago this coming week and many of them have changed beyond the tinkering -or the grand architecture- of an American president.
Now, as I wrote above, making distinctions doesn't resolve everything. Yes, there are Jewish settlements and other Jewish settlements. Maybe some of the other ones will remain just where they are and under Palestinian sovereignty. As there are many Arab towns and cities in Israel. Why is it ordained that no Israelis can live in Palestine and that 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs can live in Israel.
My guess is that when these issues are settled at a peace conference, probably deep into the future, many Jewish towns and villages will be uprooted because, much as other Arabs do, the Arabs of Palestine like their turf cleansed of Jews. But the terms of an arrangement should not be prefigured or actually dictated by pre-negotiation terms set by any president. Indeed, Obama's virtual directive is an artifice and a cruel one, at that. It instructs couples that they have cannot have children, that husband and wife cannot start a home, that a small house or apartment cannot grow larger, perhaps even that a family cannot plant a garden.
This is a non-starter.
The president has put himself in peril in the Arab world. He has set the standards of his demands on Israel crossing the boundaries of the unreasonable. Obama is now trapped.