The Obama administration is trying to figure out whether it has pushed Israel too hard, too fast. It is becoming increasingly clear that the current Israeli government has no intention of either buckling or being perceived as buckling to U.S. demands. While the New York Times is convinced that Netanyahu is busy “holding together a fractious coalition,” the truth is there is little fractious about it — little, that is unless Netanyahu chooses to ignore the overwhelming voter mandate that is behind his coalition, and give in to the administration’s demands of a total freeze of construction in the “settlements” – a squishy word which occasionally includes the eastern half of Jerusalem.
Because the Palestinians are impossibly divided and have effectively deteriorated into two separate mini-states that have little to say to one another, much less to Israel or the West; because Israelis voted against further compromise after discovering that every previous effort at compromise in the last 16 years resulted in more violence; because it really makes no difference on the ground whether Israel or the U.S. believe in a “two-state solution” or not when the prospects of a Palestinian state have never seemed more remote — because of all these things, American rhetoric is becoming increasingly difficult to connect with anything that is actually happening over here in the Middle East. The U.S. opposes a plan to build a hotel in East Jerusalem — even though in practice, very few people living in the city have any idea where the Green Line actually runs, and the vast majority of Israelis are about as interested in dividing Jerusalem as the Germans are in re-dividing Berlin. (This includes the vast majority of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, who get most of their income from working in Western Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.)
Nor is the debate over the “settlement freeze” a meaningful one. The American media love to portray the settlers uniformly as religious kooks who put their children under a kitchen table while making dinner, while the majority of them are ordinary folk living in places like Ariel and Maaleh Adumim. These images of hilltop shacks and wacky gun-toting Olive-tree-burning ex-Brooklynites make it very easy to call for a freeze to “natural growth” of the settlements — after all, if the people are fanatics, why should we let them build more houses for their children? But again, the reality is far more complex: most of what Americans call settlements are in fact bustling communities, most of whose residents, such as in Ariel or the towns of the Jordan Valley, have little if any connection to the religious motivations of the people in Kfar Tapuach and Kiryat Arba.
Americans call for a freeze so as not to “prejudice” the outcome of peace negotiations. This sounds like a reasonable goal. But what prejudices the outcome more: adding housing units in a Jewish town that is geographically removed from any Arab population center, or continuing to preach hatred, violence, and martyrdom in Palestinian schools? Building another hotel in the city of Jerusalem, or smuggling missiles and terror money into the Gaza Strip?
The whole purpose of Palestinian violence is to prejudice the outcome of negotiations. So far it has worked.