On Commentary’s blog, Contentions, Rick Richman has a post accusing me of “backwards history” in my adaptation of The Crisis of Zionism that ran on Monday in Newsweek. Richman says it’s unfair to suggest that Benjamin Netanyahu was unserious about peace talks during his first meeting with Barack Obama at the White House in May 2009. To the contrary, Richman insists, “Netanyahu came to Washington with a new approach”—one based on economic development and security cooperation—“that might create a context in which negotiations could succeed.”
There’s just one problem with this narrative. When Netanyahu came to Washington in May 2009, he had still not endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state (an idea he had opposed his entire career). He would not do so until his Bar-Ilan University speech on June 14. (And even then, Netanyahu’s father, Benzion, told Israel’s Channel 2 that his son “doesn’t support [a Palestinian state]. He supports the sorts of conditions that they [the Palestinians] will never accept.”)
So to believe that Bibi was serious about negotiations in May 2009, you have to believe that more than fifteen years after the Oslo process began and almost a decade after the negotiations at Camp David and Taba, it was possible to be serious about peace talks without supporting a Palestinian state. The Palestinians, remember, had spent late 2008 negotiating about whether they would get a state on 94 percent of the West Bank (as Ehud Olmert wanted) or 98 percent (as Mahmoud Abbas did). Now they were supposed to leap at talks with an Israeli leader who would not endorse a Palestinian state at all.
Flip this around. Imagine that Abbas were replaced as head of the Palestinian Authority by Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, who refused to endorse the two state solution but urged negotiations towards some other unspecified outcome. Would Commentary describe Haniya’s position as a new, creative strategy “that might create a context in which negotiations could succeed?”