- By Stephen M. WaltStephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
A quick follow-up to Tuesday’s post about U.S. options if the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict becomes unworkable.
Several commenters suggested that even the presence of 500,000+ Israeli settlers outside the 1967 border is not an insurmountable obstacle to a two-state solution, because even that large number could be moved back to Israel in the context of a peace deal or and the majority of the settlers could actually be incorporated inside a redrawn border with the Palestinians receiving land of equal value in some sort of swap. This is certainly true in theory, but it gets harder with each additional settler and as Israeli opinion shifts rightward. Hamas’ growing popularity is obviously another significant obstacle, and these two trends are reinforcing each other right now. Nothing is impossible in politics, I guess, but movement is in the wrong direction at present and it is hard for me to imagine it reversing in the absence of strong outside pressure.
Matt Yglesias suggests I may be underestimating Israel’s ability to retain U.S. support even if the two-state solution is abandoned and Israel creates a de facto apartheid state. He may be right — especially in the short term — but it is going to be a much harder sell, because this outcome is so at odds with American values and because discourse on these topics is becoming more open, even among Israel’s supporters here in the United States. Matt himself is a good example of this phenomenon, and he’s not alone. He’s correct that the United States tolerated apartheid in South Africa for a long time and for a host of not-very-convincing Cold War reasons, but we weren’t sending South Africa billions of dollars of aid every year and the geopolitical consequences of that policy were not as significant. (Southern Africa was never as important a strategic interest as the Middle East is). Over time, it will hard to sustain the current “special relationship” if the apartheid scenario comes to pass, and all the more so once the Arab population of greater Israel exceeds the Jewish population. That’s the scenario that Prime Minister Olmert has been warning against, and it ought to be giving fresh energy to our diplomatic efforts now. It is this scenario that has motivated groups like J Street, and more hardline organizations like AIPAC ought to be thinking hard about it too and reconsidering their own positions.
The question is: what can they do to help Israel achieve a genuine and workable two-state solution and thus avoid all these worrisome alternatives?
For advice on what Obama should do, check out Ben-Gurion University professor Neve Gordon’s new essay in The Nation. I’d be more optimistic if the new administration didn’t have too much on their plate already. Obama’s team doesn’t just need to prove they can walk and chew gum at the same time; sometimes it looks like they need to walk, chew gum, juggle three eggs, compose a string quartet, dance a jig (or if you prefer, the hora), cook a five-course banquet, rotate the tires, wind-surf, and play slide guitar — all at once.
BAZ RATNER/AFP/Getty Images