Would Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu say the magic words “two states” after his meeting with President Obama? All Israel held its breath. (He didn’t). The gap between the two is wider than those words could ever have bridged, however. Obama, I believe, sincerely — perhaps urgently — seeks a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a pre-condition, he understands, to getting on with larger, more pressing Middle Eastern issues. Netanyahu, who rejects even the notion of a Palestinian mini-state as grudgingly accepted by Barak, Sharon and Olmert, is seeking a permanent state of “warehousing” in which the Palestinians live forever in a limbo of “autonomy” delineated by an Israel that otherwise encompasses them. The danger, to which we all should be attuned, is that the two sides might compromise on apartheid — the establishment of a Palestinian Bantustan that has neither genuine sovereignty nor economic viability.
For his part, Obama seems to understand the strong linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the hostility towards the West so prevalent in the Muslim world. His administration has been quite candid about the need to move forward on Palestine in order to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue, and his ability to withdraw from Iraq, stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan and deal with the challenge political Islam poses to the “moderate” Arab states also depend, to a meaningful degree, on forging a new relationship with the Muslim world, which requires an end to the Israeli Occupation.