By John Podhoretz
In an extraordinary-and I don’t use the word in a complimentary way-interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg, President Obama follows his secretary of state in warning Israel and its leader that a failure to “make peace” now with the Palestinians will have terrible consequences. Israel is “more isolated internationally,” and will become more so; there will be more Palestinians and Israeli Arabs as time goes on, not fewer, so Israel had better move now; and not to move now is to create the conditions for a “permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank….there comes a point when you cannot manage this anymore.”
The wild logical contradictions in his remarks expose the degree to which the American approach in the Kerry peace talks is to haunt Israel with the dire nightmare it will face should the talks fail; Palestinian rejectionism plays almost no role in the Obaman calculus here.
The Palestinians, in Obama’s view, do not actually need to make changes; astonishingly, he says, they’re ready for peace. “The Palestinians,” the president says, overlooking every piece of polling data we have about the opinions of the Palestinians, “would still prefer peace. They would still prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job, send their kids to school, travel overseas, go back and forth to work without feeling as if they are restricted or constrained as a people. And they recognize that Israel is not going anywhere.”
Ah. So that 2011 poll that says 60 percent of the Palestinians reject a two-state solution is bunk-a poll whose findings have not been contradicted since. If Palestinians refuse to accept a two-state solution, they do not “recognize that Israel is not going anywhere.” Rather, they are still engaging in a pseudo-national fantasy about Israel’s disappearance or destruction. And they are so eager for peace and coexistence with Israel that they remain the only significant Muslim population that still has a favorable view of suicide bombings, according to a Pew survey.
“The voices for peace within the Palestinian community will be stronger with a framework agreement,” the president says. But why would the “voices for peace” need to be “stronger” if they reflect the actual views of the Palestinian people? They should be more than strong enough on their own now. Indeed, if they are so strong, we would not be hearing repeated denunciations of the “framework” process from Palestinian negotiators.
The president’s fantasies about the Palestinians also involve Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. “I think,” he says, “nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue.” Nobody would dispute? In 2008, offered a peace deal by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that involved Abbas actually drawing a new West Bank map giving the Palestinians something between 92 and 95 percent of the territory, Abbas basically fled the table and didn’t return. Granted, he didn’t do what Yasser Arafat did after a similar deal at Camp David in 2000 and begin the second intifada, but this hardly demonstrates a commitment to a diplomatic effort-except for one that fails.
So the Palestinians, in the president’s view, are all in. It’s really quite wonderful, in fact: “You’ve got a partner on the other side who is prepared to negotiate seriously, who does not engage in some of the wild rhetoric that so often you see in the Arab world when it comes to Israel, who has shown himself committed to maintaining order within the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority and to cooperate with Israelis around their security concerns – for us to not seize this moment I think would be a great mistake.”
Yes, the PA is such a partner for peace that even with negotiations going on, it celebrates acts of violence against Israel on a constant basis, as this report details.
Not to mention the little wrinkle that Abbas doesn’t speak in any way for half of the Palestinian polity, the half living under the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza. Ah, but that’s no problem, in the president’s view. “There would still be huge questions about what happens in Gaza,” the president says, “but I actually think Hamas would be greatly damaged by the prospect of real peace.” Really! Unlike Abbas, who has not faced Palestinian voters since 2004, Hamas actually won a free election in the past decade and its unquestioned commitment to Israel’s destruction is clearly shared by the people who live under its aegis. They do not want peace.
All of this is folderol, anyway, because the president clearly thinks peace is solely Israel’s to make, and basically, Binyamin Netanyahu should listen to Obama’s mother and rip off the band-aid: “One of the things my mom always used to tell me and I didn’t always observe, but as I get older I agree with – is if there’s something you know you have to do, even if it’s difficult or unpleasant, you might as well just go ahead and do it, because waiting isn’t going to help. When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”
Now that’s some chutzpah right there, because of course the president is invoking the words of Hillel, the ancient Jewish sage, as a rhetorical tool against the Israeli prime minister. Of course, Obama leaves out the key words of Hillel’s famed plaint, which are: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” Israel must be for itself, because there is almost no country left in the world that will be for it; while the president says the American commitment to Israel is “rock-solid,” clearly he does not believe it will necessarily be so in the future…nor should it be.
Says the president of Netanyahu, “if he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.” That’s ridiculous. A peace deal with the Palestinians is of course the right thing to do for Israel. But if there can be no peace deal, or can be no peace deal that does not pose a severe danger to Israel’s survival, then it is not the right thing to do.
The only “plausible” thing to do is to challenge the Palestinians to cure themselves of their psychotic political culture and become a rational actor with whom a true peace can be made. Is that a tragedy? It sure is. Sometimes there are tragedies, and they must be faced realistically, not wished away.
One thing that cannot be wished away is the president’s insistence on placing the burdens on Israel. This is something else his apologists can no longer wish away.