The Editors of The New York Times and Middle East peace

I caught the blurb on The New York Times’ website: Does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have an alternative to a two-state solution? And the link went to the main editorial:

Israel’s Choice
By The Editorial Board | March 5, 2014

In Washington this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel sounded two different notes about peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which are nearing a critical juncture. In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, he enthusiastically advocated a peace agreement as a means to improve Israel’s ties with its Arab neighbors and “catapult the region forward” on issues like health, energy and education.

But at other moments, a more familiar skepticism was apparent. He demanded that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state with “no excuses, no delays.” In response, a senior Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, accused Mr. Netanyahu of putting an end to peace talks because Palestinians have already rejected that designation. (Palestinians recognize Israel as a state, but not as a Jewish state because they believe that that would undercut the rights of Palestinian refugees.) And, on Monday, at the White House, Mr. Netanyahu asserted that while Israel has worked hard to advance peace, the Palestinians have not.

How much of this is posturing before the two sides face tough choices in their negotiations is unknown. But as President Obama noted in an interview with Bloomberg View, time is running out, and not just because the Americans will soon release a set of principles that are to serve as a framework for further talks on a final peace deal. Mr. Netanyahu and the Palestinians will have to decide whether to move forward on the basis of those principles, negotiated over months with the mediation of Secretary of State John Kerry, or reject them.

More at the link. But the editors continue along with the same solutions that we have all known about since the end of the 1967 war: a split-the-differences, two-state solution, with an independent Palestinian state, next to an independent Israel. Foreign Affairs and the other scholarly journals are full of such plans, by political scientists, by government leaders, by top diplomats, all of them the same in a general sense, with just a few differences on the details. Everyone knows what the structure of peace will have to be; what few seem to understand are the conditions of peace.

Well, the conditions for peace are simple: both sides have to want peace more than they want to fight, and both sides have to realize that military victory is no longer an option. While there are some Israeli irredentists who still dream of a “Greater Israel,” including all of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights,1 few Israelis seem to hold on to such visions as being even remotely realistic these days. While the Israelis could have simply expelled all of the Arabs from the lands they occupied following the Six Day War, if they had done so in 1967 or 1968, and consolidated that Greater Israel dream, it was not done then, and is no longer an option. Most Israelis, these days, would be very willing to accept a peace agreement which left Israel with control over their pre-Six Day War territory, and no more . . . though East Jerusalem might still be too much of a sticking point.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Palestinians. Israel is a democratic nation, and the will of the public is, in the end, controlling. If a majority of Israelis are willing to accept a peace agreement — and they are — the government will eventually have to go along with it.

But the Palestinians, despite some democratic forms, cannot truly be said to be a democratic nation, because the men with guns have a hugely outsized voice, and it is the men with guns who have yet to give up on the idea that they can achieve a military victory, can eventually push the Jews back into the sea. Whether the majority of Palestinians believe this is really unimportant; what is important is that the people who do believe this are effectively in control of the situation.

And that is the problem that the Editorial Board simply do not understand. The Editorial Board are good, highly educated men, men who are (mostly) sympathetic to the state of Israel, but they suffer from the same problem as do so many Westerners: they are almost wholly unable to understand that peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not dependent upon getting the details of an agreement right, but on an attitude of peace, on all sides, becoming prevalent . . . and so far, it has not.

  1. The land encompassed by the Greater Israel dream is somewhat inconsistently defined, and means different things to different people; I have used the most common current definition.

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