Department of meaningless gestures

Two eminent mainstream journalists — Tom Friedman and Joe Klein — recently called for United States to disengage from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, on the grounds that Palestinians were too divided to make a deal and the Israelis were not interested in one. Friedman couldn’t bring himself to draw the logical conclusion — if the ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
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577263_091110_waltjpgb2.jpg

Two eminent mainstream journalists -- Tom Friedman and Joe Klein -- recently called for United States to disengage from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, on the grounds that Palestinians were too divided to make a deal and the Israelis were not interested in one. Friedman couldn't bring himself to draw the logical conclusion -- if the United States truly going to "disengage," that also means cutting off its economic and military assistance -- but Klein did.   

I have a certain sympathy for this position (and even wrote similar things myself before I wised up), but there are two problems with this specific idea. The first is that it is a meaningless prescription: There's no way to cut the aid package (or even put a hold on it, which is what Klein recommends) so long as Congress is in hock to AIPAC and the other groups in the status quo lobby. And unless I've missed something, I doubt groups like J Street would support it either.

Two eminent mainstream journalists — Tom Friedman and Joe Klein — recently called for United States to disengage from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, on the grounds that Palestinians were too divided to make a deal and the Israelis were not interested in one. Friedman couldn’t bring himself to draw the logical conclusion — if the United States truly going to “disengage,” that also means cutting off its economic and military assistance — but Klein did.   

I have a certain sympathy for this position (and even wrote similar things myself before I wised up), but there are two problems with this specific idea. The first is that it is a meaningless prescription: There’s no way to cut the aid package (or even put a hold on it, which is what Klein recommends) so long as Congress is in hock to AIPAC and the other groups in the status quo lobby. And unless I’ve missed something, I doubt groups like J Street would support it either.

Friedman and Klein’s statements do convey how discourse in the United States is changing, but the specific recommendation they offer here is a non-starter. Remember: we are dealing with a Congress that just voted to condemn the Goldstone Report by a vote of 344-24. The aid package may be indirectly subsidizing the settlements and threatening Israel’s future as a Jewish majority state, but a supine House and Senate will still sign the annual check.

The second problem, I fear, is that it is too little, too late. Having dithered, delayed and dissembled ever since the Oslo Accords — while the number of settlers more than doubled — we are about to face an entirely different problem. The sun is now setting on the “two-state solution” — if it is not already well below the horizon — and pretty soon everyone will have to admit that they are sitting around in the dark and pretending they see daylight.

Be careful what you wish for. Israel is going to get what it has long sought: permanent control of the West Bank (along with de facto control over Gaza). The Palestinian Authority is increasingly irrelevant and may soon collapse, General Keith Dayton’s mission to train reliable and professional Palestinian security forces will end, and Israel will once again have full responsibility for some 5.2 million Palestinian Arabs under its control. And the issue will gradually shift from the creation of a viable Palestinian state — which was the central idea behind the Oslo process and the subsequent “Road Map” — to a struggle for civil and political rights within an Israel that controls all of mandate Palestine. And on what basis could the United States oppose such a campaign, without explicitly betraying its own core values?

In this regard, it was telling that Martin Indyk — a key figure in the lobby and far from a harsh critic of Israeli policy — is quoted in the Times saying “more than likely, we are entering a new era.” I think he’s right, and he sounds worried. He should be, because the Obama administration isn’t remotely ready for it.  

MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt

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