One should not expect new, creative ideas about the middle east to appear in a New York Times editorial. So when yesterday’s paper pushed an “Agenda for Mr. Netanyahu,” its perfect lockstep with the Obama Administration didn’t surprise too much. What did surprise, however, was its unique combination of cynicism and chutzpah. Bibi being Bibi, the Times could not take seriously any of his recent comments in favor of negotiations with the Palestinians, dismissing them as “unconvincing and insufficient.” As though Obama has by contrast produced a peace plan that is in any way convincing or sufficient. But what really gets the Times’ goat is that Netanyahu apparently “hinted” that Israel’s willingness to concede on the Palestinian side might depend on America’s successfully thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.
Stopping Iran’s nuclear program is crucial… Yes, the clock is ticking as Tehran’s capability improves. But Mr. Netanyahu should not artificially constrain Mr. Obama’s initiative. And Mr. Obama must discourage any move by Mr. Netanyahu to lead Israel, or push the United States, into unnecessary military action.
The Times has things backwards, in more ways than one. If Netanyahu did indeed hint at such a thing, it was in response to members of the Obama administration explicitly making the reverse linkage: that by failing to make progress on the Palestinian side, Israel was making it harder to stop Iran. Now, neither linkage makes a huge amount of sense, but while the American position is simply a non sequitur, at least one can understand where the Israelis are coming from: If you want us to feel comfortable taking risks with the lives of our people, they are saying, it will be easier to do so once you’ve eliminated another huge existential threat over our heads.
The Times is also appalled by Netanyahu’s backtracking from the two-state solution. As if to support its case, it is quick to point out that “On Monday, the 15-member United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a statement endorsing the two-state solution.” Yet the authors seem to forget that Israel is one of the two states in question; and that its opinion — especially that of its democratically elected government — is more important than that of the UNSC. The Times is full of people who are aware that Israelis really do not enjoy endless warfare: Perhaps if Israel is today reluctant to take further steps down the Oslo road, it is because all the steps so far have resulted in failure and bloodshed?
But there is more than just the past that stands in the way of peace today, and that renders the “two-state solution” to be little more than a slogan. The Palestinians themselves are no longer a single entity, with which one can negotiate anything. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating. The regime in the West Bank is merely dedicated to supporting terror operations and a full-fledged “right of return” that would destroy Israel demographically; whereas the regime in Gaza is actually not interested in the two-state solution at all, at best offering prolonged cease-fires on the path to destroying Israel militarily. Hamas took over Gaza by force of arms, and it seems clear that the biggest thing keeping the two factions from all-out war against each other is the thin strip of land that divides them — that is, Israel. Maybe enough arms can be twisted to create a joint PA-Hamas regime; but what kind of peace could it make?
Perhaps the most curious element of the editorial, however, is the tone, of which the above passage is just one example. The amount of influence the Times seems to think Netanyahu has over Obama is astonishing. It’s almost as though they view the Obama administration as not having an opinion of its own, but rather as an internationally lifeless, infinitely malleable political creature, and the only question is who can exert more pressure on it: the Israeli government or the New York Times.
Do they know something we don’t?