SETTLERSJackGuez:AFP:Getty

Beinart recognizes Netanyahu's failure to extend the settlement freeze for what it is:

Whether or not the Obama administration can strong-arm Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas into continuing the negotiations, Netanyahu’s decision has empowered the settlers, strengthened Hamas and made it more likely that sometime in the next year or two, the occupied territories will again explode into violence. But there is one silver lining. By his actions, Netanyahu has laid bare the criteria that American Jewish organizations actually use for evaluating the behavior of an Israeli leader. To be labeled a champion of peace by the American Jewish establishment, it turns out, a prime minister of Israel only really has to do one thing: be prime minister of Israel.

Amen. Here is the truth: Israel has no legal right to build any settlements anywhere on the West Bank. Asking them merely to freeze their construction as a good will gesture to help restart negotiations for the two-state solution was the minimum a US government trying to defuse Islamism and save Israel from itself could have asked. And still Netanyahu refused and his acolytes in the US media and Congress backed him against their own government and their own president.

We should give Clinton and Mitchell a chance to keep at this. It's too important to give up at the first hurdle. I second this constructive, practical proposal from Goldblog, directed at Netanyahu:

Why not risk your governing coalition and impose and a total freeze on settlement growth outside of the greater Jerusalem area?

This way, you'll show the world, and the Palestinians -- who are governed, on the West Bank, at least, by a group of true moderates, who have done a great deal for your security over the past year  -- that you are serious about grappling with the challenges before you. And you'll show President Obama that you mean it when you say that it is the Iranian nutters, and not the Palestinians, who pose an existential threat to Israel. Yes, risking your coalition means you would have to induce Tsipi Livni's opposition Kadima party into the government, but now seems as good a moment as any. At the very least, you'll gain a foreign minister who isn't an international embarrassment. And you might convince at least a few settlers -- those outside the security fence, especially -- that it would be best for them to move back to Israel and reinvigorate Zionism.

Such a move would also help coax those of us former staunch supporters of Israel back toward some minimal level of trust in Netanyahu. Alas, I suspect there is no way that Netanyahu will do this. But we can hope, right? Israel will not have this opportunity again. And the consequences of doing nothing, as Goldblog has clearly stated, are the end of Israel in the long term as a Jewish or a decent country.

(Photo: Israeli settlers and supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, gather in the West Bank settlement to Revava to show their support to the resumption of construction in the West Bank, on September 26, 2010 as a 10-month Israeli government ban on construction comes to an end. By Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

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