We have been told repeatedly by officials in successive American and European administrations that the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians can only end in a two-state solution and that the time for such a solution is here and is quickly passing. European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said as much earlier this week when she said, “I believe that one thing is clear to everybody in the region: that the status quo is not an option.”

First of all, if Mogherini believes that her contention that “the status quo is not an option” is “clear to everybody in the region,” the EU should immediately look for a new top foreign policy person. Because there’s no way she believes that or, if she does, she must have a severe and tragic problem with recreational hallucinogens. It is manifestly not so. Entire books have been written about the preferability – not to be confused with desirability – of the status quo.


Of course, those books also cared enough about the people living in the region to also examine the achievable alternatives, something most Western leaders never bother to do. So, perhaps I was too hasty about the EU diplomat’s drug problem. I guess if, by “everybody in the region” she meant the small orbit of ideological fellow-travelers directly around her, she’s got a point.

Second – and this may come as a shock to the reset experts at the State Department – there is no immutable law of nature imposing a sell-by date on Middle East peace negotiations. You know what is an immutable law of nature? Newton’s First Law. Check it out. Then apply it to human behavior.

Western leaders should stop telling us that their preferred near-term outcome is the only possible near-term outcome in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It puts undue pressure on our Israeli allies who are always the ones forced to “give” something just to get the Palestinians to come to the table. This, in turn, serves the strategic objectives of the Palestinians and disincentives’ them from negotiating in good faith.

In presupposing the outcome and its required immediacy while simultaneously making only one side – Israel – suffer the internationally-imposed consequences of delay (as opposed to the conflict-imposed consequences which are suffered by both sides), we further serve the strategic interests of the Palestinians.  

The tendency to treat, well, “everybody in the region” like two-dimensional cartoon characters (in what would have to be the longest-running and least-funny comic strip in history) is an ongoing moral and policy failure on the part of the West. We treat the Israelis like all-powerful colonial powers who have but to decide to end the conflict whereupon the conflict will magically end. Even worse, we treat the Palestinians as non-actors in the region; people to whom history simply happens and who are permanently incapable of determining their own behavior in the present (never mind having a future).

It is well past time for Westerners to come to terms with what is obvious to a growing number of people who follow this conflict: there is no peace agreement to be had in the near-term. Even if there were – and there is not – it would not be enforceable by a Palestinian Authority that has not prepared its people for life beside a Jewish state, has not built institutions to support a state, is still very much factionalized and poisoned by a cultural imperative to avenge internal and external grievance, and has no demonstrable ability to provide for its own economic and security needs.

Assuming that negotiations must work out at all, must do so in a particular way, and on a particular schedule is unrealistic and counterproductive and empowers people we shouldn’t be empowering. Since the alternatives are either unworkable or unattractive, Western leaders should find other ways to get the attention of the Nobel committee.

Greenberg is the senior vice president of the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. An expert in Middle East policy and former staffer at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, you can follow him @JGreenbergSez.