The main argument of today’s column from Ari Shavit, who is likely Israel’s foremost political columnist (think Tom Friedman, except a little to the left), is that solving Syria could be something of a skeleton key for an Obama Administration increasingly intent on producing Mideast peace: A treaty there would “help Iraq, isolate Iran and indirectly contribute to the cause in Afghanistan,” Shavit says. Additionally, it will “guarantee slow but certain progress on the Palestinian track.” Shavit also argues against President Obama’s apparent goal: “Pleasing Islam by quickly closing the file on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The road to Ramallah, as they say, leads through Damascus.
Among other things, the piece is a helpful reminder that even if you think you have the answer to the West Bank, there are many other variables in play—Syria, Iran, and Hamas in Gaza most quickly coming to mind.
But Shavit’s analysis of the West Bank stood out to me: Broadly speaking, he pointed out, there’s actually little dispute over what will happen!
The solution to the Jerusalem problem is widely known: The Jewish neighborhoods stay in Israel, the Arab ones are given to Palestine and the Holy Basin becomes part of a special regime. The solution to the refugee problem is also commonly known: Palestinians’ right of return will apply to the territory of the Palestinian state, while such claims will not apply to the territory of the Jewish state. Just as well known is the solution to the settlement problem: Territory swaps and annexing large settlement blocs to Israel, and the eviction of isolated settlements.
Simple, right? (No, it’s not, but simpler than having no idea where things are going.)
The problem, according to Shavit? “The Palestinians feel history is working in their favor, and are not ready to compromise,” he argues. “The Israelis, meanwhile, are paralyzed. Both talk peace and play at peace, but neither are willing to pay the price of peace.”
I’d take issue with some of that—a few on the Palestinian side, most notably Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, have talked of statehood next year, although maybe that, too, is a bargaining chip. But if time is on the Palestinians’ side, then that makes the Obama Administration’s apparent desire to rush a peace deal more well-intentioned than the right would say it is, even if he’s going about it in a way the center-left Shavit says is misguided. Furthermore, if time is on the Palestinians’ side, then that makes things for Israel—whose main concern right now assuredly remains Iran, not Palestine—even scarier.