As Obama and Netanyahu prepare to have their first meeting in office (though not their first meeting), historical analogies are flying.
Martin van Creveld, the eccentric Israeli military historian, thinks that Barack Obama should emulate Jimmy Carter (“the president who did most for Israel”) in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. His reasoning:
Whatever they may say in public, for many years now both sides in the Middle East have been secretly waiting for a second Carter.
His task is to bang their heads together and force them to do what they themselves are unable to do: namely, give up their more extreme claims and reach some kind of agreement.
Meanwhile, an Obama administration official, pressed as to why prospects for peace talks are not unreservedly bleak, told me privately that Bibi might be prepared to do a “Nixon in China”–i.e., to make concessions from the right. That is what Menachem Begin did in the Camp David talks.
But the historical figure we should be invoking is not Nixon, Carter, or any other U.S. president. It is Anwar Sadat.
Israel has long indicated its willingness to settle for a two-state solution. Even Netanyahu, I am certain, would endorse such a setup if he were confident that the Palestinian state thereby brought into being would be a peaceful, responsible neighbor. No one can have any such assurance today when Gaza is under the control of the fanatical Israel-haters of Hamas and the West Bank is under the control of the weak and corrupt Palestinian Authority. The P.A. has nominally accepted Israel’s right to exist but has never given up the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, which, if carried out, would mean the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish State.
Where, oh where, is the Palestinian Sadat–i.e., a responsible negotiating partner who can make peace and mean it? Until such a statesman arises, there is little or nothing that either Israeli or American leaders can do to bring a final resolution of the never-ending peace process.