“If Netanyahu thinks that 1967 lines are an illusion, then peace for him is an illusion.” – PLO Executive Committee member Saeb Erekat, reacting to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s principles for peace set forth in Washington, DC, over the past few days
Turning the earth to sow seeds is a good beginning. Certain people, when they show up in Washington, we hand them a shovel because we want them to grow a garden. Michelle Obama took it literally, and as her garden grows, so does her cause celeb – healthy eating, healthy habits. President Obama plants policy seeds that sprout, but because it takes an act of Congress to keep those plants growing, most end up stunted and malnourished.
Then there are the world leaders, those with an agenda. We hand them a shovel, too, because, as Americans, we expect results. The past five days, we put a spade in the hands of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, asking him to turn the ground, so we could see how our “best of friends” was growing his garden of peace. Today, in a rare address to both houses of Congress, Bibi took the shovel firmly in his hand and said, “Peace would herald a new day for both peoples.” Then, he pushed into the ground, turned over a rock and said, “But, oh, see? Dirt,” and then he thanked us for the faith in his being able to grow a garden, thanked us for the shovel, and left.
Were Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to come to DC, we would hand him a shovel too. He may even tear into that same bit of ground as Netnayahu, turn it over, and say, “Look, a rock.” Then he too would thank us for the shovel and leave.
When President Obama pointed out last Thursday that the garden shed was open and the quartermaster was ready to hand out tools to those willing to do the work for peace, there were many who said, “He’s handing them a tool, and then he points to a rocky outcropping and says dig there? He knows that if Bibi plows there, the blade will shatter into spear points and hurt Israel’s security! I told you he doesn’t support Israel’s pursuit of peace.”
When Bibi dug and the spade did not splinter, they wanted Obama to dig next, sure that it would splinter for him. So certain are they that this administration is against the Jewish state, they discount the evidence, right in front of them, that the earth can, in fact, be safely turned. Indeed, they even ignore the drying, decades old lumps of clay turned before, by Republicans and Democrats, right along the same lines.
But this exercise was a failure to begin with, because even if they dig a long trench, there’s no fresh seed to plant, no fertilizer to nourish it, no gardener who can tend to it unhindered by political and “demographic realities.” There is no prospect right now. There is only the status quo, the one President Obama calls “unsustainable.”
If to avoid talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have been a mistake in last Thursday’s speech at the Department of State, then talking so much about it may also have been an uncalculated error. Bibi seized on it as a PR opportunity, an extra boost from AIPAC and other supporters, the same way the RNC or DNC jumps on statements from elected officials affiliated with their respective opponents to rile their respective bases to shake their respective money trees.
Was that the plan all along? Was it a trial balloon? If so, Netanyahu deflated it at his speech to the joint Congressional session, acknowledging the president’s clarification at his speech, Sunday, to AIPAC. “[A]s President Obama said,” the prime minister declared, offering cover to the president’s misunderstood statements, “the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967. ”
With that diplomatic language, Netanyahu picked up his shovel and walked away. He left behind little doubt where this Likud coalition government in Israel stands: a demilitarized Palestinian state; Israeli troops within it, along the Jordan River; no right of return for Palestinian refugees inside whatever the final line between Israel and Palestine ends up being; and “Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.” All this, only if Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
In his speech, Netanyahu promised any possible Israeli concessions in a peace deal with the Palestinians would be “painful” and “generous” to the Jewish State. The Palestinian Authority reportedly disagrees, with Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, telling the Jerusalem Post, “What Netanyahu proposed in his speech won’t lead to peace, but would instead place more obstacles in front of the peace process.”
This is the “unsustainable” status quo which President Obama spoke about, Thursday, the impediments to peace from just one of the sides in the conflict. There will be no peace talks. As Netanyahu said in the Oval Office on Friday, “It’s not going to happen.”
Unsustainable or not, all that is left behind from this visit is the status quo – more turned earth, left to dry in the summer sun. If the status quo is maintained, the UN will vote to recognize a Palestinian state in the fall. That’s why, as Bibi said, it must be dealt with “tomorrow. And when I say tomorrow, I don’t mean some distant time in the future. I mean — tomorrow.”