I think pressure should be placed on Israel to halt -- or, ideally, reverse -- settlement construction, and the U.S. should recognize that Palestinian rejection of any Jewish state is the deeper problem...
Now, to be sure, I do not agree with Andrew about the Middle East. I am not sure how far he would like to see the United States go in punishing Israel for the settlements, but I'm certain it's much further than I'd like to go, or that Obama has gone. I'm confident that whatever this distinction is, he'll use it to claim that my opinion is functionally that of a Likudnik. Through his switch from ultra Israel hawk to ultra Israel dove, the one constant has been an insistence upon binary thinking. Before, anybody who disagreed with him was making excuses for anti-Semitic terrorism. Now anybody who disagrees with him is making excuses for Avigdor Lieberman. Thus his assumption that, because I think Palestinian rejectionism constitutes a greater problem than settlements, I must think settlements are not a problem at all. And thus his final conclusion that I'm functionally a Likudnik.
Chait deploys his usual debating tactic: turn these arguments into psychoanalyses of his opponents (Beinart, moi), and dredge up past history. But for the record: I too believe that Palestinian rejectionism is a huge problem, but not entirely irrational or surprising. I favor action on the settlements because that alone is currently practical, and could help shift that dynamic into a virtuous cycle with no cost whatever to Israeli security. For the record too: Chait is formally anti-settlement and did not personally blame Obama for bringing the settlements up as a precondition for starting direct talks. He has a post to prove it, which I missed. And so our differences are both small and large.
Our large difference is in the word "formally". In the context of Israel's continuing acts of aggression and provocation, insisting that that the settlements are a lesser matter than a long-standing Arab mindset toward Israel is practically, effectively to favor the status quo, and settlement expansion. And this switch toward pressuring Israel first is not a binary switch. Many of the current critics of Israel were indeed once strong supporters of it; but the long-term demographic crisis, the increasing extremism of Israeli politics, the rise of religious fundamentalism, the strategic costs to the US of Israeli belligerence, and the emergence of a much more adult leadership in the West Bank - believe it or not, some of us change our minds when the facts change. We saw the new administration in Washington as offering Netanyahu a way out. Netanyahu saw it as a threat to be waited out until a Cheney-style successor emerges, and the real war can begin.
And under these dire and dangerous circumstances, in which it appears we could soon cross a Rubicon toward a global religious war, many of us are frustrated by the world-weary pro-Israel pundits who say they're against settlements but never ever propose to do anything to make them stop growing, let alone reverse them. This, after all, was the point of my post: when will Chait actually put up? And why should we believe this positioning is more than positioning, when it always ends up backing Israel?
Chait could pwn me if he were to say what he'd like the administration to do now, with respect to increasing pressure on Israel to halt or "ideally" reverse the settlements. But he hasn't spelled this out - except he's convinced his ideal mix wouldn't be as tough as my own preferences (yes, I'd use aid as leverage if I could, and the UN veto if necessary). I think what many of us are waiting for from the anti-anti-Israel camp is some sense that they'd ever draw the line somewhere.
Instead we get a concession like this from Goldblog about Fayyad and Abbas. They are
practical men who are trying to create reality-based policies that actually serve the best political and economic interests of their people.
... and you wait breathlessly for the pay-off ... but no!
As soon as the PA becomes a viable partner, attention must immediately be paid to Hamas and to the withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza as a reason for inaction:
Twice in ten years they've withdrawn from territory, and twice they've been hit by rockets. They are not doing this again, not until the politics of the Palestinians -- and the politics of Iran -- change dramatically.
And so Israel just "can't" freeze settlements now. Not even freeze? Would a freeze mean a threat to Israel's security? Would ending the provocations in East Jerusalem really mean an existential threat? How many excuses can be made for Netanyahu until they become essentially supporting arguments for Netanyahu?
So you see the Chait point again: the settlements are not an issue until the Israelis manage to believe the Palestinians aren't out to get them. But continuing the settlements weakens Fayyad and Abbas, strengthens Hamas, enrages the Palestinians and further convinces Israel that the Palestinians are out to get them. And the beat goes on ...
I guess what I'm saying is that when it comes to Israel, we are at a critical point: do we push them or not? I say: push. Chait says: wait ... for something that will never happen without some Israeli concessions. My default position if Israel, as a sovereign state, continues to occupy the West Bank, collectively punish the people of Gaza, threaten to attack Iran, kill unarmed civilians and take out terror suspects using the passports of alleged allies? Disengage entirely. The US should not be held responsible for a situation over which the US president has no real power.