Blame Bibi

A former career peace processor, Aaron David Miller knows from whence he speaks. Today, in a piece titled "Stop Blaming Bibi" on Foreign Policy, he writes that the stalled negotiations to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aren't all Netanyahu's fault. The essay certainly airs reasonable views—it takes two to tango, etc.—but misses a few central points.

Most galling is Miller's assertion that something must be done about the Iranian nuclear issue before peace can be achieved in the Mideast. He writes that "there will be very little room or incentive for serious moves toward Israeli-Palestinian peace, particularly on the Israeli side." Well, can't we blame Bibi for that? Moreover, this is a rehash of the bogus neoconservative construction that "the road that leads to real security and peace... runs through Baghdad." In reality, the road to Israeli-Palestinian peace runs through Jerusalem, and every other detour is just a distraction from that end (pursuing those roads may have their own merits, but have less bearing on Israeli-Palestinian issues). Yesterday Baghdad, today Tehran, tomorrow somewhere else: there will always be outside aggressors for Israel to focus on rather than peace within those boundaries it now exercises direct control over.

But there's something else Miller avoids. He writes, at the outset, that Netanyahu is "more intransigent on some key questions than other Israeli politicians," specifically mentioning that "Bibi is expanding settlements in the West Bank." This is of course the primary excuse the Palestinians give for avoiding direct talks—the absence of a settlement construction freeze—but that only hints at the heart of the issue.

Settlements are not the be-all-end-all of Israeli-Palestinian piece, but they're important: more so than the military occupation itself, they constitute the entanglement of Israeli society—actual civilian towns—with what would be a future Palestinian state. And they're growing. The stalled peace process is just that—stalled—but the settlements are actually counter-productive. That is, the absence of an active peace process kicks the can down the road while settlements make it less likely that peace will ever be achieved. Their growth represents a constant deterioration of the status quo rather than the simple postponement peace.

Then let's be clear about one more thing: settlement growth is solely an act of Israeli agency. Palestinians obviously have no say, and most of the rest of the world is united in opposition to expanding settlements. The excuses about settlements giving Israel "strategic depth" were long ago debunked (and smack of a reasoning that employs settlers as civilian "human shields"). And the responsibility for Israel's actions in the West Bank ultimately rests with none other than Benjamin Netanyahu. The buck stops there.

Miller writes that Netanyahu "certainly deserves a large share of the blame" for the "current impasse" in the peace process. That may be true. But Netanyahu deserves all the blame, not for the "impasse," but for the deterioration of the process due to Israeli settlement growth.