It's been a great week or so for AIPAC, Netanyahu, the neocons and all those who desperately want to find reasons to avoid a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. Tom Friedman threw up his hands last weekend - but his analysis was, to my mind, far too even-handed. Money quote:
Israel, when America, a country that has lavished billions on you over the last 50 years and taken up your defense in countless international forums, asks you to halt settlements for three months to get peace talks going, there is only one right answer, and it is not “How much?” It is: “Yes, whatever you want, because you’re our only true friend in the world.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, what are you thinking? Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, offered you a great two-state deal, including East Jerusalem and you let it fritter away. Now, instead of chasing after Obama and telling him you’ll show up for negotiations anywhere under any conditions that the president asks, you’re also setting your own terms.
Notice that there is no parallel here in time. The Abbas rejection of the Olmert offer preceded Obama's term in office; the Netanyahu government's refusal to make any sacrifices or concessions to its indispensable ally occurred entirely during Obama's term of office. Moreover, the reason Abbas turned it down, according to George W. Bush, was because Olmert was being ousted from office because of a corruption scandal and Abbas was not sure he was negotiating with a leader who could subsequently deliver. That's important context for Friedman's alleged moral equivalence between the two sides under Obama.
Since 2009, the new leadership of Abbas and Fayyad has done nothing wrong, so far as I can see, except insist on a freezing of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem before they negotiate. Obama's critics have argued that this precondition was the error - not Netanyahu's intransigence. I really don't see this. No one can defend the settlements in the context of a two-state solution; to negotiate while you are aggressively moving the facts on the ground to maximize your leverage is not a clean negotiation. It's a negotiation where one side has an interest in stalling while it achieves its real end of permanent occupation and colonization. Ending that construction is therefore essential to establishing a viable dialogue between the two sides.