Mitt Romney is nothing if not predictable. Thanks to Mother Jones, we now know his private thoughts about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. And they track, almost perfectly, the public thoughts of Benjamin Netanyahu and the American Jewish right.
Mother Jones caught Romney telling some Florida gazillionaires that “the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace.” Note the breezy and categorical nature of the statement. To be sure, one can plausibly argue that the Palestinians won’t make the concessions—especially on refugee return—necessary to bring about a two-state solution, especially with Hamas breathing down Mahmoud Abbas’ neck. But that’s hardly self-evident. Surveys by the most eminent Palestinian pollster, Khalil Shikaki, suggest that while a slight majority of Palestinians oppose the two-state parameters Bill Clinton laid out in December 2001, Palestinian public opinion is sharply divided. (Interestingly, Shikaki found that a majority of Palestinians back the 2002 Saudi plan, perhaps because it promises a return to the 1967 lines, which the Clinton parameters do not, perhaps because its wording on refugee return, though ambiguous, is somewhat stronger, and perhaps because it has Arab provenance.) As for Abbas’ personal interest in a two-state deal, no less an authority than former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who negotiated extensively with him in 2008, has declared, “Don’t tell me there is no partner. There is a partner. [Mahmoud Abbas] wants peace with Israel.” The Israeli site Ynet reported that in 2011, Palestinian negotiators handed representatives of the US-led Quartet a proposal for a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with a 1.9 percent land swap. That’s in sharp contrast to Netanyahu, who as I detail in my book, has never offered any specific border proposals, and has publicly rejected the idea of a peace deal based upon the 1967 lines plus land swaps, the idea at the heart of the Clinton parameters, which Barack Obama tried to revive last May. All of which is to say that the evidence of who does and does not want a two-state solution is a lot more ambiguous than Romney suggests. But for Romney, as for so many of his backers, that’s irrelevant. Palestinian rejectionism is simply taken for granted.
In fact, the only evidence of Palestinian rejectionism that Romney offers is his prediction that if the Palestinians got a state they would not allow Israel to patrol their eastern border, which separates the West Bank from Jordan. (Palestinian leaders, says Romney, would reply, “We’re an independent country. You can’t, you know, guard our border with other Arab nations.”) On that point, Romney is almost certainly right. But what he leaves out is that under the Clinton parameters, the Palestinians were never required to accept Israeli patrols along their border with Jordan. Instead, Clinton envisioned a several year transition to an international force along the eastern border of a Palestinian state. (A proposal that Abbas reportedly accepted during his negotiations with Olmert.) It’s Netanyahu who has made indefinite Israeli control of the eastern border of a Palestinian state a precondition for any deal. So, essentially, Romney’s evidence for Palestinians not wanting peace is their refusal to accept a Netanyahu demand that the United States itself has never endorsed. It’s typical of the Israeli and American Jewish right, which so often measures a Palestinian leader’s desire for peace by his willingness to accept Israel’s latest demand.
But the most intriguing part of Romney’s remarks come at the end, when he confesses that “There’s just no way [to achieve peace]. And so what you do is you say, ‘You move things along the best way you can.’ You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem … we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.” What kind of “somehow, something” could Romney have in mind? It’s hard to believe it’s the two-state solution, since keeping alive that option for future years would require curbing the Israeli settlement growth that is rapidly foreclosing the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. And Romney has zero interest in doing that.
More likely, Romney is alluding to ideas that have long surfaced on the Israeli right: that one day Egypt will take the Gaza Strip off Israel’s hands, and that Jordan, with its Palestinian majority, will eventually take responsibility for the Palestinians of the West Bank (while leaving Israel with most of the West Bank’s land). The most recent proponent of such a vision is rising Likud star Danny Danon, whose new bookproposing a “three state solution” (Israel, Jordan, Egypt) enjoys blurbs from Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck.
It all makes tremendous sense, until you remember that Egypt has zero interest in swallowing Gaza, Jordan has zero interest in assuming responsibility for the Palestinians of the West Bank, and the Palestinians of the West Bank have less than zero interest in a “solution” in which they are permanently consigned to an archipelago of towns and villages surrounded by Israel and theoretically represented by the authorities in far-off Amman. The far more likely scenario, if people like Romney help kill the two-state solution, is not a three-state solution, but a one-state solution: one state that is bi-national in theory (and probably Palestinian-dominated in practice) in which the dream of Jewish self-determination is consigned to history’s dustbin. In recent months, prestigious, mainstream Israelis like Yediot Ahronot columnist Nahum Barnea have predicted exactly this. In the real world—as opposed to the fantastical world of the American and Israeli right—that’s what Romney was actually promising the hedge funders who plopped down $50,000 to hear him speak in Boca Raton this May. We’re finally getting the “hard truths” we’ve been promised from the Republican campaign all year long.