I remember back six or seven years ago that the government of Israel took the view (plausibly) that they couldn’t negotiate with the Palestinian Authority because it lacked democratic legitimacy and therefore credibility as a partner. Then an election was held, Hamas won, and the government of Israel began to take the view (plausibly) that they couldn’t negotiate with the Palestinian authority because Hamas, which is a nasty group in many ways, was now participating in the coalition. Then there was a Hamas-Fatah civil war and the government of Israel began to take the view (plausibly) that they couldn’t negotiate with the Palestinian Authority because the PA couldn’t speak for the large Hamas faction that, among other things, ran the Gaza Strip. This week a new Palestinian unity deal has been reached and the Israeli government now seems to be moving toward the (plausible) view that they can’t negotiate with a government that includes Hamas.
Each of these positions has, on its own terms, been plausible. And as an Israeli tactical strategy for avoiding overwhelming political pressure to engage in serious negotiations and serious steps toward Palestinian statehood, it’s been incredibly successful.
But put in broader context, it looks an awful lot like a cross-party strategy for endless military domination of the West Bank. Politicians don’t want to explicitly endorse that vision, both because it would play poorly abroad and also because the domestic audience doesn’t seem to want to face up to what’s actually going on, so you see this affection for a shifting series of specific arguments about why now’s not the right time. Meanwhile, scenarios like the moral obscenity of Hebron and the construction of Jews-only highways through the West Bank continues apace even though nothing about Palestinian negotiating posture forces Israel to do these things. It’s become fashionable in left-wing Jewish American circles to argue that this kind of approach won’t work and will eventually cost Israel its international support. And maybe it will, but the reality is that American public opinion has become more strongly pro-Israeli even as Israeli conduct has become less defensible. The truth is that it’s morally wrong, whether or not it’s strategically viable.