JONATHAN CHAIT MAY 26, 2011
Alan Dershowitz says that President Obama weakened Israel's bargaining position vis a vis the Palestinians:
This recent statement clearly reveals the underlying flaw in Obama’s thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no way that Israel can agree to borders without the Palestinians also agreeing to give up any claim to a “right of return.” As Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad Salaam once told me: each side has a major card to play and a major compromise to make; for Israel, that card is the West Bank, and the compromise is returning to the 1967 lines with agreed-upon adjustments and land swaps; for the Palestinians, that card is “the right of return,” and the compromise is an agreement that the Palestinian refugees will be settled in Palestine and not in Israel; in other words, that there will be no right to “return” to Israel.
President Obama’s formulation requires Israel to give up its card and to make a “wrenching compromise” by dismantling most of the West Bank settlements and ending its occupation of the West Bank. But it does not require the Palestinians to give up their card and to compromise on the right of return. That “extraordinarily emotional” issue is to be left to further negotiations only after the borders have been agreed to.
This is a stronger argument than the predominant pro-Israel objection to Obama's speech, which is based on simply distorting Obama's statement. But I see three flaws here.
First, Dershowitz assumes that Benjamin Netanyahu actually wants to negotiate a feasible two-state settlement with the Palestinians. This assumption is unproven at best.
Second, Dershowitz simply assumes that a maximalist negotiating posture is the strongest, and that Israel can't strengthen its position by appearing reasonable, enticing Palestinians to negotiate, and/or make Palestinians look unreasonable if they refuse to do so. Sometimes this holds true, but sometimes it doesn't. Given Netanyahu's history of spurning peace and encouraging settlements, I believe he'd benefit more from conciliation than from maximalism.
Third, Dershowitz doesn't seem to take into account the United States' need to establish some international credibility in order to defend Israel at the United Nations if and when Palestinians unilaterally declare a state. Indeed, not only does the U.S. need credibility, but Israel needs the U.S. to have that credibility. Netanyahu's approach does not appear to be shrewd negotiation but meandering into a diplomatic nightmare.