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National Security & Defense

White House Moves to Punish Israel

The White House is now moving to punish Israel for Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement on the election’s eve to the effect that there will be no state solution while he is prime minister. As I wrote a few days ago, this is not really a reversal of his earlier embrace of a two-state solution. Netanyahu can reaffirm that he still aspires to a two-state solution and will do everything possible to bring it about, and still confidently predict that it won’t happen while he is prime minister. In any negotiation, circumstances sometimes dictate that there is no zone of possible agreement (or “ZOPA” in the negotiations literature). If you are in a negotiation in which agreeing to the minimum demands of the other side would be suicide, there is no ZOPA until something changes such that your agreeing to the minimum demands of the other side is not suicide. Right now, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is no ZOPA between the parties, and hasn’t been since Arafat unleashed the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000. 

Politico has the White House angle:

While saying it was “premature” to discuss Washington’s policy response, the [Obama administration] official wouldn’t rule out a modified American posture at the United Nations, where the U.S. has long fended off resolutions critical of Israeli settlement activity and demanding its withdrawal from Palestinian territories.

“We are signaling that if the Israeli government’s position is no longer to pursue a Palestinian state, we’re going to have to broaden the spectrum of options we pursue going forward,” the official said.

There is no virtually no chance that the U.S. will trim its financial or military support for Israel. But some analysts believe that going forward, Netanyahu may be vulnerable in international forums where the U.S. has long been a bulwark against criticism of Israel and its presence in Palestinian territories.

“I do think the administration is going to look very closely at the possibility of either joining, or at least not blocking an internationally backed move at the U.N. to restate the parameters for ending the conflict,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning pro-Israel group J Street.

This is a tempest in a teapot. All Netanyahu has to do is simply affirm that of course he’s still willing to pursue a Palestinian state, but there’s a problem because the current circumstances are just objectively unfavorable for a settlement right now. However (he should say), he looks forward to working with the White House to establish the necessary foundations for a peaceful agreement. And establishing the right foundations is not an unrealistic goal, particularly if the U.S. does its part.

In fact (Netanyahu should say), a two-state solution could easily be concluded within just a year or two. All that would have to happen is for Iranian influence to be expelled from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, for Iran’s nuclear-weapons program to be dismantled, for ISIS to be defeated, for the Syrian civil war to be resolved, for Hezbollah to be cut off from Iranian support, for Hamas to be removed from power in Gaza, and for the Palestinian Authority to agree to stop inciting violence. That shouldn’t be so hard for an American president who is so brilliant when it comes to foreign policy that he doesn’t “even really need George Kennan right now.” 

Mario Loyola is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the director of the Environmental Finance and Risk Management Program of Florida International University, and a visiting fellow at the National Security Institute of George Mason University. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone.

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