I consider settlements a very major problem. I do think, though, that the more important problem is the refusal of Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of any Jewish state. In a 2009 poll, 71% of Palestinians said it was "essential" to have a state that encompasses all of present Israel and the West Bank. Only 17% of Israelis said it was essential to have a Jewish state controlling all that territory. I believe that, if presented with a peace accord that Israelis think will not endanger their security, it is difficult but far from impossible to imagine an Israeli government signing on. I have a harder time envisioning a Palestinian government doing the same -- any Palestinian government that surrenders the dream of replacing Israel is going to be an unrepresentative one that's likely to be quickly overthrown. I think it's still worth trying, and the settlements remain a crime, but that's my view of the obstacles to peace in order of their importance.
So the question here is one of tactics then, right? Chait thinks that until Palestinian opinion shifts decisively, the pressure should be on them in resolving the issue, not the Israeli government's policy of increasing settlements. I think this is completely misguided. I think the settlements are obviously the biggest problem for a two-state solution because, er, they are on the other side's land and are imposed by brute force and often racist and religious contempt. And with each day they grow - and they've almost doubled in population this past decade - they kill off any chances of peace. It seems to me that a quarter of a million squatters on occupied land is a pretty definitive peace-blocker. But even freezing their construction was too much for the pro-Israel lobby to handle.
But even if I'm wrong and Chait is right, and Palestinian opinion and not settlements is the major problem, isn't continuing the settlements and collectively punishing Gazans likely to have the opposite effect on Palestinian opinion? Hasn't it already? And so, Chait's position becomes self-fulfilling. Israel says: we will continue building settlements because the Palestinians are still hostile to our existence, but their hostility to Israeli existence is exacerbated by the settlements. The logic of Chait's argument means that, practically, nothing will change. The settlements will continue; US aid to Israel will remain; Palestinian resentment will deepen; Israel's isolation will intensify; Israel's demographic slide into an apartheid state will accelerate.
Reversing this cycle was precisely the point of Obama's insistence on a settlement freeze as a kick-start to negotiations.
This wasn't a big leap or an impossible demand. It wasn't a reversal of any settlements, let alone forcible dismantling; it was merely a suspension of adding to what Chait calls a crime. And yet even then, Chait backs Israel. And the US has already done a lot to nudge West Bank sentiment by economic support, and backing the most capable Palestinian leadership - Fayyad especially - in years. A constructive response from Jerusalem and AIPAC last year could have greatly built on this. But we got the usual bile.
The reason Chait comes off as a neocon Likudnik is that his bottom line is still that of a neocon Likudnik. Somehow, it's always Israel that gets the benefit of the doubt - even when led by Avigdor Lieberman and Bibi Netanyahu. And somehow, nothing ever changes - save the jerk of the collective AIPAC knee.