In light of Netanyahu’s decision to give a speech reneging on past Israeli commitments to a two-state solution, and instead offering a “limited” Palestinian state, I’d been pondering the question of whether there’s any kind of historical precedent for a state-but-not-really of the sort Netanyahu seems to have in mind. I think the Irish Free State of the 1920s and early 1930s might count as something of a precedent. Basically, the British had decided that trying to rule Ireland by force was more trouble than it was worth, but for a variety of practical and prestige-related reasons didn’t want to concede Irish independence either. So they worked out a form of quasi-independence that went along with a bunch of slightly odd vocabulary and an oddly worded oath of allegiance to the King. The upshot was an inherently unstable situation full of ambiguity and a steady Irish march toward real independence.
As far as Israel and Palestine, however, the more one thinks about it the more this all comes back around to the fact that what matters is deeds more than words. What America needed from Israel before the speech was to stop settlement growth and a start to meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians. What’s needed today is a stop to settlement growth and a start to meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians. The demands Netanyahu was making of the Palestinians aren’t so much ridiculous as they are ridiculous to present as preconditions. If you’re serious about creating any kind of Palestinian state, then it’s clear from looking at a map that in the future there need to be fewer settlers and settlements than there are now. So Israel should stop creating more settlements and more settlers. To raise the existence of a hypothetical Palestinian military as a reason to avoid doing things in the here and now is just a way of trying to deflect attention from the actual, operational issues at hand.