There is no Israel/Palestine debate in the United States. Not really. We have debates about tactics, like the one that’s currently taking place. We can argue over whether the current bout of high-tech butchery in Gaza is a justified reaction to rocket attacks, or whether it’s yet another counterproductive escalatory measure from Tel Aviv. But we never discuss the endgame. I have never heard a debate between the hawks and doves about what end-state American policy should be oriented toward achieving.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t positions on the matter. Indeed, that’s the problem – there’s only one position, that of the peace camp. Ask anyone of that (my, our) persuasion – Daniel Levy, Rob Malley, Gershom Gorenberg, Jeremy Ben-Ami etc. – what end-state they’re looking for, and you’ll get roughly the same answer. There is a center and left-of-center consensus around a return to the pre-1967 borders, full dismantling of the settlements, and an acknowledgement of and compromise on the right of return. There is room for negotiation – on whether Jerusalem will be split per pre-1967 lines or jointly administered, on how many refugees to allow back into Israel proper, on the amount of reparations to be offered to those not allowed to return – but there’s a blueprint for a settlement that the peace camp holds in common. It’s a consensus that’s reflected in a whole range of peace initiatives, from the Clinton parameters to the Arab Peace Initiative to the Geneva Initiative, and which, thank God, Barack Obama supports. It’s the only conceivable arrangement that both Tel Aviv and Ramallah would ever agree to simultaneously, and so we support it.
But I don’t know what we’re arguing against. I’ve never heard anyone at The New Republic, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, or any other neoconservative publication outline their counter-proposal. I have never read an article by Marty Peretz, Norm Podhoretz, or anyone else of that ilk outline what final status they’d prefer. How much of the occupied territories are they willing to give up? How many of the settlements? Would they accept any refugees back into Israel? If so, how many? If not, how would they compensate them? If they’d retain or, worse, fully annex any Palestinian land, how would they deal with its residents? Would they have a vote for the Knesset, or would they exist representation-less, as second-class citizens?
These aren’t rhetorical questions; I’m genuinely interested in the answer. I want to know what kind of end-state these commentators want. Once they put a proposal like that forward, we can have a debate. We can argue over who’s likelier to get Palestinian compliance, who’ll prove more effective in stopping rocket attacks and suicide bombings, who’ll prove more effective in winning over other Arab states, etc. But it’s time for the hawks to put up or shut up. If they have a counter-proposal, let’s hear it. If they don’t, then they better start getting behind the peace process. Because right now, there is no alternative.