A Two-State Solution May Have To Wait

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published November 20, 2008, issue of November 28, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In a kind of “exit interview” in the Sunday, November 16, edition of The New York Times, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice summarizes her take on the Israel/Palestine conflict: “… There is a robust negotiating process, and they have made a lot of progress on how to get to a two-state solution…. On the Palestinian-Israeli issue, we will leave this in a much, much better place, agreement or no.”

Perhaps. Perhaps those who believe that a two-state solution is an idea whose time has gone are in a bad mood. Perhaps those who search for evidence of progress and find only thimbles-full are looking in the wrong places.

Or perhaps Rice knows things the rest of us don’t know and her assessment, based on that knowledge, is that there has been real progress. More likely, though, is that Rice, who this year has made eight trips to Israel, feels compelled to put the best face on her own nearly empty portfolio. The balance of her interview includes a significant number of similarly self-justifying (not to say aggrandizing) assessments.

The truth is that no one knows just where things stand at the moment — not Rice, not Ehud Olmert or Tzipi Livni, not Mahmoud Abbas, not Dennis Ross or Ehud Barak. Not this correspondent, either.

What we do know is that President-elect Obama is being pressed from many quarters to move quickly on the Israel/Palestine front. In communications both public and private, Obama is told that he “should” or, more often, that he “must,” act with dispatch to bring the chronic conflict to a constructive resolution. In particular, he is being urged to appoint a special envoy to transfuse the peace process, to demonstrate the depth of America’s concern.

It won’t happen, nor should it happen. There’s an old Yiddish bon mot: Men krikht nit mit a gezunt’n kop in a krank’n bet areyn — With a healthy head, you shouldn’t crawl into a sick bed. To assign a high-profile envoy in the early days of the new administration to an arena that has by now played host to a succession of envoys — remember Bob Strauss, Sol Linowitz, George Mitchell, George Tenet, Tony Zinni, Phil Habib, among many others — is to reach for fruit so rare and as yet so unripe as to ensure failure. Nor is there anyone in Obama’s entourage close enough to him to carry the presidential aura into the fray. (Vice President-elect Joe Biden might be an exception, but he will surely have his hands full, and then some.) The last thing a new administration needs is a false start in an early foray into foreign policy.

That’s so whether Livni or Bibi Netanyahu emerges as Israel’s next prime minister after the February 10, 2009, election. If it’s Netanyahu and he moves to scuttle the ongoing talks between Israel and the Palestine Authority, as he has threatened he may, the riot act can be read to him as compellingly by telephone as by a special envoy on site, or can be conveyed to him during his first visit to the White House after taking office, a visit that will surely come in the early weeks of his tenure. And if it’s Livni, there’s a different and more pliable agenda that might take productive priority. Why not dispatch an experienced diplomat for a very low-key exploration of the possibility of an agreement between Syria and Israel? There are, after all, good reasons to believe that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is interested, and an early success in that arena would have profound consequences for the Israel/Palestine conflict.

In the meantime, the region is not idling in neutral. There are, here and there, hints of reasonableness, even of progress. The constabulary of the Palestine Authority now manages law and order in Jenin and has begun to make its presence felt in Hebron and Nablus, too. This is the product of an elaborate international effort in which the United States and Jordan have played key roles. And none too soon: With every such advance on the West Bank, the advance of Hamas there is blunted.

And Israel may, at long last, actually be moving against the more than 100 illegal outposts that have been such a bone of contention, such a blight on Israel’s credibility. The removal of these settlements is by no means an imminent certainty, and the government’s recent statements of intent in this regard may prove as empty as earlier and similar statements have been. Moreover, the affected settlers have vowed resistance, and no one in Israel discounts their increasing radicalization.

Yet that radicalization has itself stirred the Israeli public, brought it to a level of impatience and even disgust that will applaud decisive action by the government to have done with this vexation.

That will leave intact the more serious debate, the one about the larger and established settlements, those that have been actively supported by a succession of governments. That debate will be wrenching, whenever it finally is joined.

An America that has established its gravitas in international affairs, that has, one hopes, facilitated a peace between Israel and Syria, will play an important catalytic part as such a debate unfolds. In the meantime, Obama’s plate is full to overflowing, and in the Middle East, there’s lower-hanging fruit to be picked.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.