Backtracking on Palestinian statehood?

Netanyahu, Obama
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Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firmly repudiated his purported support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, the cornerstone of U.S. policy for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue for the past 15 years.

According to Netanyahu, "anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel." To make his point crystal clear, when asked whether he would oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state if he becomes the head of the next Israeli government, Netayahu responded: "Correct."

Netanyahu's renunciation of Palestinian statehood is not merely hard-line posturing designed to boost his party's flagging support as Israel heads to the polls today. It also serves as a reconfirmation that he remains implacably opposed to even the slightest degree of Palestinian self-determination.

The Obama administration has frittered away six years and two failed rounds of negotiations, and has endured endless humiliations from Netanyahu — including his recent speech to Congress undercutting the president's delicate negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, an intervention in U.S. politics so egregious that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) termed the address "humiliating, embarrassing and very arrogant" — on the assumption that the Likud prime minister was a peacemaker committed to enabling Palestinian statehood.

Was this supposition warranted by the Obama administration or an act of misplaced faith? Had the tiger — who, in his 1993 book A Place Among the Nations, wrote that Palestinians could exercise their self-determination in Jordan, which he argued is "a sovereign state" that "exists for Palestinian Arabs" — changed his stripes?

The Obama administration thought it had a partner for peace in Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister first signaled his support for Palestinian statehood in a much ballyhooed speech at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009. But his vision for this "state" — truncated, attenuated and circumscribed in its powers — made it clear that this entity would be shorn of the attributes of sovereignty, a state in name only, exercising significantly less rule than today's autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Netanyahu's speech was not a change of heart but an act of verbal legerdemain, a sleight of hand, designed to placate the United States. After all, the American-raised Netanyahu professed that "America is a thing you can move very easily." And it appeared that Netanyahu's hocus pocus did the trick. After his Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu was lauded by the Obama administration as a visionary statesman. Former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine), President Obama's Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, declared that for the first time "we have both sides moving toward the same objective."

Now that Netanyahu has dropped his pretense of supporting Palestinian statehood in even its most limiting terms, the United States must reassess its position on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And this reevaluation must occur, for at least two reasons, regardless of which party forms the next government after Israel's election today.

First, strenuous opposition to true Palestinian sovereignty transcends the partisan divide in Israeli politics. No Israeli political party capable of forming the next government envisions a genuinely independent Palestinian state arising next door — the parties differ only on how many layers of patina should be shellacked over the reality of Israel's continued apartheid grasp of occupied Palestinian territories. Israel's illegal colonization of these territories began under supposedly left-wing, Labor-led governments and will likely continue unabated, irrespective of who is the next prime minister.

Second, senior U.S. policymakers have already recognized that Israel's torrid colonization of Palestinian land has created facts on the ground vitiating against the establishment of a Palestinian state. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryThe evidence backs Trump: We have a duty to doubt election results Effective sanctions relief on Iran for sanctions’ sake What would a Hillary Clinton presidency look like? MORE cautioned that "the window for a two-state solution is shutting." He warned that "we have some period of time — a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it's over." Kerry's testimony occurred in April 2013, nearly two years ago. By his own admission, the window for Palestinian statehood is now shut — or very nearly so.

Fresh from his failure to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, the staunchly pro-Israel ideologue Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel who served as Obama's Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations in 2013 and 2014, conceded this point as well. As the frantic, last-ditch efforts of the United States and Israel to force on the Palestinians a Netanyahu-style "state" lay in tatters, Indyk acknowledged that Israel was creating an "irreversible binational reality."

The mantra of "two states for two peoples" — a highly dubious slogan to begin with, which ignored the reality of Israel's substantial demographic of Palestinian citizens and the rights of Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed from their homes by Israel to return — has run its course. U.S. policy must come to grips with the "irreversible binational reality" Israel has generated through its hegemony over all of historic Palestine.

Ruebner is policy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace