Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Israel, and the very next moment some Israeli minister announces that they’ll be building 1,600 more homes in East Jerusalem. Poor old Joe! Settlements! More of those darned things! And just when he was going to play the conjurer, say abracadabra, and shake peace out of his sleeves. So upset is the VP that he turned up ninety minutes late for dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Was he telephoning the geniuses in Washington who think these settlements are the key to the Middle East, or sobbing in the men’s room?
Indirect negotiations, proximity talks, the Road Map, the Quartet, shelf agreements, the freelancing of Senator Mitchell and Tony Blair, and the drills of General Dayton have exhausted the lexicon of diplomacy and the ingenuity of lawyers. The reason for this should be crystal clear. The Palestinians are happy with the way things are; they see no reason for change; the present situation is playing profitably into their hands. If they’d really wanted a state, they could have had one any time since the 1992 Oslo Accords. Israel, the United States, the European Union, and even Saudi Arabia implore them to have a state. But why should they? All these well-wishers are pumping money to them, and a state would force them to spend it on administration rather than themselves. They also have the pleasure of observing everyone — and specially Washington — putting pressure on Israel and making it unpopular. Sixteen-hundred more settlements gives them grounds for 1,600 more complaints, and then sitting down and rubbing their hands in expectation of commiseration and rewards. A state would oblige them to pull their own chestnuts out of the fire.
Interrupting his sobs, Biden says that the announcement of new settlements “is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” And what trust might he have in mind? Trust between Fatah and Hamas, perhaps, when either of those terrorist groups is as likely as Mossad to have taken out the arms dealer Mahmud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Or perhaps trust between us and Damascus and Tehran, where the terror-masters operate, and can be heard laughing at the policy initiatives of the United States. That deeper counterpoint noise in the background is the dull thud of heads beating against the wall in Washington. They don’t seem to understand that as long as the deadlocked status quo serves the interest of top Palestinians there is not the slightest chance of a peace process. It’s inconceivable, of course, but the announcement that the United States was backing and even financing settlements would do more to make the Palestinians appreciate that their true interest is to reach a speedy compromise, rather than seeing that Joe Biden spoils his dinner.