The two-state two step
In today’s Times, Tony Judt argues that President Obama should not be taken in by Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that his government is willing to entertain the possibility of a Palestinian state, since what Netaynyahu has in mind for the Palestinians is a kind of statehood lite: a state without a real military or control of its own airspace. Nor should the president be misled by the Israeli government’s bogus distinction between legal and illegal settlements. Judt writes:
There are about 120 official Israeli settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank. In addition, there are “unofficial” settlements whose number is estimated variously from 80 to 100. Under international law, there is no difference between these two categories; both are contraventions of Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly prohibits the annexation of land consequent to the use of force, a principle re-stated in Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter.
Thus the distinction so often made in Israeli pronouncements between “authorized” and “unauthorized” settlements is specious — all are illegal, whether or not they have been officially approved and whether or not their expansion has been “frozen” or continues apace.
For this reason, the Israeli government’s willingness to accept the nonexpansion of “unauthorized” settlements should not be celebrated by the U.S. government as an important concession. Everyone else in the world, says Judt, can see that Netanyahu is trying to play the Obama administration. He is saying the magic words the American press has been primed to listen for (“Did you hear that? He said ‘two-state solution’! Peace is at hand!”) but behind them there is no significant change of policy. Judt writes:
President Obama faces a choice. He can play along with the Israelis, pretending to believe their promises of good intentions and the significance of the distinctions they offer him. Such a pretense would buy him time and favor with Congress. But the Israelis would be playing him for a fool, and he would be seen as one in the Mideast and beyond.
Alternatively, the president could break with two decades of American compliance, acknowledge publicly that the emperor is indeed naked, dismiss Mr. Netanyahu for the cynic he is and remind Israelis that all their settlements are hostage to American goodwill. He could also remind Israelis that the illegal communities have nothing to do with Israel’s defense, much less its founding ideals of agrarian self-sufficiency and Jewish autonomy. They are nothing but a colonial takeover that the United States has no business subsidizing.