The Nation's call for a new sobriety in US policy vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is heartening, but I suspect that I am not the only reader on the left who might wish that it further clarify the recommended terms of such renewed engagement. There is an awkward ambiguity in the exhortation that the Obama administration "begin by reasserting longstanding principles of international law and US policy," because when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two are not, historically speaking, mutually compatible. US policy since the Oslo Accords has been to find a "solution" for the conflict that absolves Israel of the need to comply substantially with international law, primarily within respect to ceding any rights to Palestinian refugees, but also in allowing Israel to salvage at least some of its territorial conquests in the West Bank. The parameters that emerged from the Taba talks enshrined these two principles, not least with respect to East Jerusalem, where Clinton effectively ruled that Israel should be allowed to keep what land it had seized there, no matter how difficult this makes it to envision a rational Palestinian urban plan in what remains of the city. Just look at the map. The Nation's assertion that the Taba proposals "remain the best chance for resolving the conflict" are accordingly very heavy on its deference to past US policy, and exceedingly light on international law. Which is a pity, for a progressive publication.
The larger issue should be clear here: Netanyahu is correct when he this past month proclaimed that "building in them [settlements] in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution." It is just a matter of what you are willing to call "a state." Or, perhaps, more pointedly, do Palestinians have the right to rights, or merely cheap substitutes like "viability" or "dignity"? Woefully, I have to confess that unlike some of the other commentators on this article I am a moralist, and believe in right and wrong. There is always en ethical dilemma in foreign policy; people who speak of the need for pragmatism are merely obfuscating a bigger question: pragmatic for whom? Usually, the answer is: those with power.