Andrew O’Hehir writes: Let’s give Mitt Romney some credit for candor on the Middle East, if for almost nothing else. President Obama’s soaring rhetoric in his campaign-style speech this week in Jerusalem, when he urged the Israeli public to “create the change that you want to see” and laid out a moral and philosophical case for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, showed us the leader of the free world at the top of his oratorical game. But Obama didn’t go to Israel with any concrete plan to restart negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, a pair of weakened politicians who lack clear mandates from their own people. Despite vague promises to send Secretary of State John Kerry into the breach in coming weeks, it’s by no means clear that he has one.
In contrast, Romney’s infamous private summary of his Middle East policy – “we kick the ball down the field and hope that, ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it” (he never used the phrase “kick the can down the road,” although that’s how it has entered the popular discourse) – has the unmistakable tang of realpolitik rather than wishful thinking. Given the long history of failure by all sides in this arena, it’s not even cynical to suggest that this is precisely Obama’s strategy: Try to soften attitudes on the ground a little, win over a few hearts and minds on both sides, and then gratefully hand over the problem to another hopelessly conflicted president in 2017.
What we can also detect in Romney’s remark and, a little deeper below the surface, in Obama’s Jerusalem speech is the growing sense in many quarters that the two-state solution is dead – that it’s no longer practical or possible to establish an independent Palestinian nation alongside the Jewish state of Israel, if it ever was. While the “one-state solution,” however conceived, remains a semi-forbidden zone in mainstream international policy discourse, it keeps cropping up all over the place on both the right and the left. Within a few weeks last summer, leading Israeli settler activist Dani Dayan published an Op-Ed in the New York Times urging the international community to give up “its vain attempts to attain the unattainable two-state solution,” while radical journalists Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor published an anthology of writing by academics and activists entitled “After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine.”
Less than a month later came the English translation of eminent Israeli sociologist Yehouda Shenhav’s explosive essay, “Beyond the Two-State Solution,” which imagines a bi-national, bilingual federal democracy of Jews and Arabs that would encompass the entire territory of present-day Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Shenhav, Dayan, Loewenstein, Moor and the leadership of Israel’s staunch enemies Hamas and Hezbollah might agree about nothing else, including which day follows Tuesday and whether the sky is blue. But they’d all agree that a negotiated two-state solution won’t work. Indeed, Israeli film director Dror Moreh, who made the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers” and falls somewhere toward the pragmatic center of Israeli politics, recently told me the same thing. He sounded rueful about holding that opinion and thinks it’s still worth trying but suspects it’s simply too late. [Continue reading…]