If you read Peter Beinart’s latest article, in which he passes judgment on who is to blame for a recent breakdown in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, his guiding principle seems clear: The side that rejects key ideas seen as essential to solving the conflict is the side that should be blamed for any failure of peace talks. But look more closely and it becomes clear that the controversial Middle East commentator isn’t so principled with his principles. Beinart, it turns out, believes the side that rejects essential ideas should be blamed, but only if that side is Israel.
According to Beinart’s April 9 article in Ha’aretz, entitled “Obama Should Make Israelis Look at Themselves in the Mirror,” the most recent round of negotiations faltered because Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu had “publicly rejected” the idea that Israel would withdraw to its precarious 1967 boundaries. “To imagine the two parties can reach an agreement without following those parameters is sheer fantasy,” he states. These are “the only parameters that could lead to a deal.”
Beinart’s math is rather fuzzy. He correctly quotes Barak Obama’s 2011 assertion that a border between Israel and a future state of Palestine “should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” And he correctly quotes Netanyahu’s counterpoint, made the following day, that Israel “cannot go back to the 1967 lines.” But strangely, Beinart argues that Netanyahu’s statement “both distorted and rebuffed the President’s guidelines.”
Netanyahu rebuffed a distorted version of the president’s statement? What a clever way to state that he disagreed with a position Obama never actually took; and what a tortuous way of saying that he did not, in fact, rebuff what Obama did say.
But never mind Beinart’s smoke and mirrors. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Netanyahu, who surely wasn’t pleased that an American president for the first time called for borders based on the 1967 lines, did “rebuff” the president’s guidelines. This brings us back to the higher principle — namely that blame should rest with the side that rejects ideas key to a peace agreement. After quoting Obama and Netanyahu, Beinart elaborates:
Without understanding this history, you can’t understand why America’s current peace efforts are near collapse. The principle that a final deal requires a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines, after all, had undergirded all serious prior negotiations, both between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in 2000-2001 and between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas in 2007-2008. To imagine the two parties can reach an agreement without following those parameters is sheer fantasy, since a Palestinian state that isn’t near the 1967 lines wouldn’t be remotely viable.
… The prisoner release, in other words, was a way to bribe Abbas into entering negotiations with a prime minister who has publicly rejected the only parameters that could lead to a deal. When the bribes stopped, the talks collapsed.
The only reason there’s any public ambiguity about who is to blame for this latest diplomatic crisis is that the Obama administration, despite having laid out its preferred rules of the game in 2011, won’t play referee. It won’t point out the obvious: That one party to the current talks accepts the 1967 lines as the basis for talks and the other doesn’t.
Beinart is entitled to his principle. But while we’re on the topic of people rejecting “the only parameters that could lead to a deal,” and of “sheer fantasy,” we should also remember the parameter calling for two states for two peoples, which the international community — not only Israel and the United States, but also the Quartet of Middle East negotiators that includes the UN, EU and Russia — has long viewed as the way to solve the conflict, and we should recall the idea of a Palestinian “right of return,” which is above all else a fantasy meant to undermine that idea.
Palestinian leaders have repeatedly and vehemently rejected the idea of two states for two peoples, an idea older and more fundamental than the rather arbitrary 1967 lines. And they’ve doubled down on this rejection by encouraging the Palestinian people to cling to the fantasy that thousands of Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants should be permitted to “return” to Israel, an idea that would make a Jewish state unviable. So according to Beinart’s logic, every time Palestinian leaders went on record rejecting a Jewish state and insisting on a right of return — and there have been many such utterances both before and after Netanyahu told Obama that he opposed the 1967 lines — that side has taken upon themselves responsibility for a future breakdown in talks.
Has Beinart, then, written an article giving assigning the Palestinians their share of blame for the breakdown in talks? Has he said that their untenable positions should lead Obama to “offer them a mirror, and let them decide if they like what they see,” as Beinart concluded in his article about Israel?
On the contrary, last month the Ha’aretz columnist defended the Palestinian leader’s rejection of this principle of two states for two peoples, and even urged him not to accept a Jewish state because Israel hasn’t clarified whether it envisions a mean-spirited Jewish state that opposes a Palestinian “right of return” or a shiny, happy Jewish state that would never embarrass Beinart.
And what if Mahmoud Abbas rejected Beinart’s preferred state, the one full of good Jews, not bad Jews? Would the Palestinian president then be responsible, even in some part, for failures in the peace process? Not according to Beinart, who could only bring himself to say he would “like to believe … Abbas’ opposition might soften” if Israel demonstrated its goodness.
And what if Benjamin Netanyahu adopted Beinart’s advice to Abbas, and announced, borrowing from Beinart’s own words, that Israel will not accept the existence of a Palestinian state unless the Palestinian leadership first “made clear not only in words but in deeds that a [Palestinian] state can safeguard the [Palestinian] people while also dedicating itself to the full equality and dignity of” Jews living in the West Bank”? Would Beinart support this new position by Netanyahu in the same way he supports it for the Palestinians?
Of course not. As the record shows, Beinart’s view that Israel is guilty is more than just a conclusion that follows from his principles. It is a guiding principle in and of itself.