You have to wonder about the timing of this story–with the debt ceiling thing on everyone’s minds around the world, it’s a great time to slip in a new policy without getting a lot of bad press. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a serious peace bid for the first time in his tenure. The basis of negotiation will be pre-Six Day War 1967 borders, and Palestine will trade land in its territory that hosts settlements for Israeli land beyond the 1967 lines–there will be “mutually agreed swaps.” That phrase, of course, is taken from Barack Obama, who was subjected to extensive criticism for it from his own domestic audience, even though everybody from Toronto to Tehran knows that that is the only realistic basis for peace talks. Any peace policy that doesn’t recognize the Palestinians’ more reasonable claims (i.e., we’re leaving out right of return here) will not get their support–any such policy is not a policy. The folks at J Street must have been extremely unhappy, as the criticism of Obama was a testimony the ability of the Likudniks–and not left-leaning groups like themselves–to get their talking points airtime, regardless of sensibility. To see Israel’s reliably rightist PM quietly taking a position that just a few weeks ago was deplored as foolish pie-in-the-sky leftism in the US shows the very weird way that the Middle East peace process is discussed in America.
But back to Bibi. It’s obvious that the reason he’s suddenly making serious steps in the peace process is the Palestinian bid for increased recognition at the UN next month. As I’ve argued in this space many times before, Israel has nothing to worry about from this. It will move the peace process forward by about an inch, because Palestine already has standing to take a lot of actions in international forums, and because the peace process will forever be between Israel and Palestine only, not Israel and the international community. An Israeli Prime Minister, especially one as seasoned as Netanyahu, should know that. Elements in the international community have been at Israel’s throat since Ben Gurion read out the Declaration of Independence, and Israel has continued to exist and thrive. In spite of this, there have been many rumors that Netanyahu was terrified of the UN bid, that he thought it would bring a “diplomatic tsunami” against Israel. We can now see that those rumors are true. They fit perfectly with Netanyahu’s image as a paranoid politico, always watching his back for maneuvers. That’s a sensible stance in the chaotic world of the Knesset, but it’s a bad way to make decisions in a state protected by one of the world’s most effective militaries and sitting on strategic, surprisingly defensible land. Netanyahu has restarted the peace process on realistic grounds due to threats from an imagined enemy. It’s as if Don Quixote, while jousting windmills, had accidentally lanced a real giant.