Oslo Dead? They Doth Protest Too Much

"CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision." -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Anyone following this week's annual convention of J Street, the U.S.-based pro-Israeli peace movement, should be impressed by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni's powerful opening call to peace and security. While she is working with Secretary of State John Kerry and the Palestinian leadership on negotiations toward a two-state solution, however, other members of Israel's same right-wing coalition government are expanding Jewish settlements across the West Bank and renouncing any support for the very terms Livni is proffering.

For months, prominent members of Israel's new governing coalition have been saying what they had previously said for years before: The "two-state solution" enshrined in the 1993 Oslo Accords, and consistently reaffirmed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is dead. These politicians, who include the chairman of the government coalition and the Deputy (and acting) Foreign Minister, insist Israel will never allow a Palestinian state or concede significant land or Jewish settlements.

Major American Jewish organizations which, like Netanyahu and his predecessors in the Prime Minister's Office, have long maintained the two-state solution as the only path for achieving peace and stability, were caught off guard. Naturally, when confronted with public repudiation by visible and influential Israeli policymakers, they formally denounced such comments. The American Jewish Committee responded directly to such remarks by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon: "Danon's comments are singularly unhelpful when Prime Minister Netanyahu is dong his utmost to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, which is in the strategic interest of Israel."

The worst scorn, however, was reserved for Professor Ian Lustick, who dared to suggest in the New York Times, with evident sadness and resignation, "Diplomacy under the two-state banner is no longer a path to a solution but an obstacle itself. We are engaged in negotiations to nowhere." Lustick's piece was only advocating a reality check on the very premise of the two-state solution and the notion that -- given this unfortunate reality -- there may yet be an optimal choice to make the best of the situation.

Both the left-leaning J Street and conservative Anti-Defamation League (ADL) criticized and dismissed Lustick's argument, posting their responses that same Sunday. For J Street, Lustick was dispelling all hope that so many facts on the ground and so many lost opportunities could be overcome at this late stage: "Ian S. Lustick's essay offers an illogical, unachievable agenda that does no favors either to Israelis or Palestinians."

The ADL reflected the approach of numerous other groups, framing Lustick as advocating a one-state solution -- an unacceptable denial of the need for two states coexisting side by side in peace and security: "His argument about what will ensue after the abandonment of the goal of two states is a fancy version of a one-state solution that ends the concept of Jewish self-determination."

The most potent answer to Lustick's analysis came from Minister Danon himself, who reiterated last week in the New York Times what he'd been telling the Likud Party faithful -- that no peace deal will lead to evacuating settlements or creation of a viable Palestinian state. Blasting Oslo as a farce and fantasy, he called to annul Oslo outright and replace its parameters with something along the lines of the Begin-era "autonomy" plan, all under Israeli sovereignty.

Israel's Deputy Defense Minister concludes that "in the harsh realities of the Middle East, this may be the best we can hope for and the sole realistic chance for our children to grow up in a world less violent than previous generations have had to endure."

Especially as the Netanyahu government drags its feet on negotiations, continues building settlements and refutes any possibility of Palestinian goodwill, the Jewish organizations committed to explaining Israeli actions have necessarily fallen back on the meme: Israel awaits the day when a reliable Palestinian leadership will come and negotiate for a two-state solution. If Israeli officials are actively disavowing this defense, and if American academics dismiss it as an outdated myth, then the Jewish community has a much harder time explaining away continued planning and construction of settlements on the land being proposed for a Palestinian state.

Our own denials notwithstanding, Danon's stated hopes for a one-state solution have again confirmed Lustick's fears. And they should give the rest of us cause for alarm -- not at Lustick for pointing this out, but at the Netanyahu government in which these gentlemen continue to serve.

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