Bibi and Barack

 Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

18.5.2011
via Haaretz (click for original)
 
Reading the headlines from the Middle East these days — Christians and Muslims clashing in Egypt, Syria attempting to crush its democracy rebellion and Palestinians climbing over fences into Israel — you get the sense of a region where the wheels could really start to come off.
 
In such a moment, President Obama has to show the same decisiveness he showed in tracking down Osama bin Laden. A useful analogy for this moment comes from climate science, where a popular motto says: Given how much climate change is already baked into our future, the best we can do now is manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.
 
In Middle East terms, the “unmanageable” we have to avoid is another war between Israel and any of its neighbors. The “unavoidable” we have to manage is dealing with what is certain to be a much more unstable Arab world, sitting atop the world’s largest oil reserves. The strategy we need is a serious peace policy combined with a serious energy policy.
 
Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel is always wondering why his nation is losing support and what the world expects of a tiny country surrounded by implacable foes. I can’t speak for the world, but I can speak for myself. I have no idea whether Israel has a Palestinian or Syrian partner for a secure peace that Israel can live with. But I know this: With a more democratic and populist Arab world in Israel’s future, and with Israel facing the prospect of having a minority of Jews permanently ruling over a majority of Arabs — between Israel and the West Bank, which could lead to Israel being equated with apartheid South Africa all over the world — Israel needs to use every ounce of its creativity to explore ways to securely cede the West Bank to a Palestinian state.
 
I repeat: It may not be possible. But Netanyahu has not spent his time in office using Israel’s creativity to find ways to do such a deal. He has spent his time trying to avoid such a deal — and everyone knows it. No one is fooled.
 
Israel is in a dangerous situation. For the first time in its history, it has bad relations with all three regional superpowers — Turkey, Iran and Egypt — plus rapidly eroding support in Europe. America is Israel’s only friend today. These strains are not all Israel’s fault by any means, especially with Iran, but Israel will never improve ties with Egypt, Turkey and Europe without a more serious effort to safely get out of the West Bank.
 
The only way for Netanyahu to be taken seriously again is if he risks some political capital and actually surprises people. Bibi keeps hinting that he is ready for painful territorial compromises involving settlements. Fine, put a map on the table. Let’s see what you’re talking about. Or how about removing the illegal West Bank settlements built by renegade settler groups against the will of Israel’s government. Either move would force Israel’s adversaries to take Bibi seriously and would pressure Palestinians to be equally serious.
 
Absent that, it’s just silly for us to have Netanyahu addressing the U.S. Congress when he needs to be addressing Palestinians down the street. And it is equally silly for the Palestinians to be going to the United Nations for a state when they need to be persuading Israelis why a Hamas-Fatah rapprochement is in their security interest.