David Horovitz, the editor of the indispensable Times of Israel, noticed something on Friday that other observers did not. At a press conference, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been on record for several years now supporting the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, essentially said, "Never mind." Here's Horovitz:
[Netanyahu] spoke only in Hebrew, and we are in the middle of a mini-war, so his non-directly war-related remarks didn’t get widely reported. But those remarks should not be overlooked even in the midst of a bitter conflict with Gaza’s Islamist rulers; especially in the midst of a bitter conflict with Gaza’s Islamist rulers. The prime minister spoke his mind as rarely, if ever, before. He set out his worldview with the confidence of a leader who sees vindication in the chaos all around. He answered those fundamental questions.
It is not that Netanyahu renounced his rhetorical support for a two-state solution. He simply described such a state as an impossibility.
[W]hile [Netanyahu] initially stuck to responses tied to the war against Hamas, its goals, and the terms under which it might be halted, he then moved—unasked—into territory he does not usually chart in public, and certainly not with such candor.
For some, his overall outlook will seem bleak and depressing; for others, savvy and pragmatic. One thing’s for sure: Nobody will ever be able to claim in the future that he didn’t tell us what he really thinks.
He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. He indicated that he sees Israel standing almost alone on the frontlines against vicious Islamic radicalism, while the rest of the as-yet free world does its best not to notice the march of extremism. And he more than intimated that he considers the current American, John Kerry-led diplomatic team to be, let’s be polite, naive.
It is correct to note that the Middle East is a cauldron of Islamist extremism; it is correct to note that the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas is weak and faltering; it is also correct to note that on two previous occasions, Israel evacuated Arab territory—southern Lebanon in 2000, Gaza in 2005—only to see those territories soon enough come under control of extremists with rockets. So Netanyahu isn't crazy to note the dangers to Israel of an independent Palestinian entity on the West Bank. But he knows perfectly well that permanent occupation (and please don't doubt that an arrangement in which a Palestinian "state" isn't fully sovereign means, in fact, permanent occupation) is no solution for Israel, either.
Netanyahu is not crazy, and he's also not delusional, in the manner of certain political figures to his right, who believe that Israel can keep control of the Arabs of the West Bank forever without profound moral and political consequences. He knows, as he suggested to me in an interview this spring, that the status quo is not sustainable:
The first point of [Israeli national] consensus is that we don’t want a binational state. Another point of consensus is that we don’t want an Iranian proxy in territories we vacate. We want a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the nation-state of the Jews.
If Netanyahu has convinced himself that a Palestinian state is an impossibility, then he has no choice but to accept the idea that the status quo eventually brings him to binationalism, either in its Jim Crow form—Palestinians absorbed into Israel, except without full voting rights—or its end-of-Israel-as-a-Jewish-state form, in which the two warring populations, Jewish and Arab, are combined into a single political entity, with chaos to predictably ensue. (Recent events in the Middle East suggest that it is not a place ripe for experiments in coexistence.)