If you want to understand why the Obama administration is so angry with Binyamin Netanyahu and his government, read what Netanyahu told Etgar Keret, one of Israel's leading young authors.
Keret spoke with Netanyahu on a recent trip to Italy. He was reporting for Haaretz, the Israeli daily, which once a year hires Israel's leading authors and poets to serve as reporters.
Keret demanded an answer from Netanyahu to a simple question: What is your government's peace initiative? What is the plan that you are pushing to end the conflict with the Palestinians? Netanyahu's reply was: "This is an insoluble conflict because it is not about territory. It is not that you can give up a kilometer more and solve it. The root of the conflict is in an entirely different place. Until Abu Mazen recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, there will be no way to reach an agreement."
Netanyahu's assertion that the crux of the conflict is attitudinal rather than territorial is both factually wrong and wrongheaded, as my colleague Lara Friedman has been pointing out since Netanyahu posed his "recognition-plus" precondition more than two years ago. And, as Keret wrote, even if it is truly important for Israel to be recognized by the Palestinians as a Jewish state, "a strategy that is based on waiting for the other to change, is one that I would not assume. Esteemed leaders do not achieve accomplishments by waiting for the other side to make a move."
Netanyahu's publicly joining the ranks of the "no-solutionists" is bound to further strain his relations with the Obama administration. In the past, similar public statements by senior Israeli officials such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon and former National Security Advisor Uzi Arad caused a great deal of anger in Washington. Why? Not only because politicians should focus on pursuing peace policies rather than practicing punditry, but also because of the subtext. The message was that Israel's leaders are not pursuing peace. They are merely going through the motions, doing the absolute minimum so as not to alienate Israel's chief ally.
Netanyahu's statement should anger Israelis and Americans who care about Israel, as much as it angers Obama's Washington. Because a reasonable solution to the conflict is feasible, and because abandoning an active and sincere pursuit of peace for Israel is disastrous for Israel's future. Israel will not be able to exist as a democratic Jewish state without a two-state solution.
Over time, the lingering occupation of the West Bank is eroding Israel's democracy, making Israeli society increasingly violent and isolating Israel in the international arena.
Dismissing peace efforts as futile, or even putting the peace process on temporary hold, pending better circumstances, might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It might discourage Israelis and Palestinians, as well as their friends internationally, from striving to create conditions conducive to peace. That may be Netanyahu's goal. By doing so, he is inducing the birth of a bi-national state. He is reinforcing a devolution of the conflict from one that can be solved into the type of ethnic strife that the former Yugoslavia witnessed a decade ago.
Netanyahu is not only condemning Israelis and Palestinians to endless bloodletting. He is also inducing the beginning of the end of the Jewish state.