Previous peace talks assumed that Israel would annex some large settlement clusters near the pre-1967 border with the West Bank, and remove the rest. The Palestinians would get land swaps in exchange. That formula, too, is outdated.
Netanyahu rejects any reference to 1967 borders. Meantime, expanding settlements are pushing ever deeper into the West Bank and taking on the appearance of cities, making it almost impossible to imagine their removal.
One can only conclude that these settlements are being built in order to solidify Israel’s future control over most or all of the West Bank. After all, why build at this pace, in these places, if you think the settlements will one day be torn down?
Of course, it’s understandable why Israelis are leery about Palestinian statehood. It’s unclear whether the Palestinians and Arab states would ever provide the security guarantees required for Israel to acquiesce.
If, however, Netanyahu has ruled out serious talks on a viable, sovereign Palestinian state — and the facts on the ground say he has — then it’s necessary for him, and Obama, to prepare for the consequences.
Consider these hard truths: At present, Palestinian security forces help keep the West Bank calm, but that calm is beginning to fray. At present, the European Union and international lenders keep the moribund West Bank economy afloat, but these donors are getting restless.
If Palestinian prospects are narrowed to self-rule over disconnected cantons, those Palestinian security forces will soon quit, lest they be called traitors. European money may stop flowing. The Palestinian Authority may resign, forcing Israel to retake administration of the West Bank.
If the occupation continues, Israel will become more isolated internationally, accused of apartheid.
No one wants to talk about the Day After the peace process dies. But it’s no use pretending that negotiations can be revived without focusing on the hard stuff: a settlement freeze; borders based on 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps; and full Arab recognition and security guarantees for Israel.
If that’s not what Netanyahu wants to discuss with Kerry, they’d better start talking about the West Bank violence to come.