As Biden Departs, ‘Proximity Talks’ Still On
But how much longer can Israel pull off its game?
Raise your hand if you’ve heard the old saw—sometimes attributed to Abba Eban—that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity? (I’ll raise my hand. I once heard it from Danny Ayalon, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States, from the bimah at my Washington, D.C., synagogue during Yom Kippur.) In the wake of the Israeli Interior Ministry’s announcement of plans to build 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem just as Vice President Biden had arrived to pave the way for “proximity talks,” an unnamed conservative American Jew wrote to blogger Ben Smith, “Israelis have now reached a level where that old cliché of ‘never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’ can now apply to them at least as much as the Pals.”
Such is the understandable despair setting in. In fact, as Biden leaves the country (he heads for Jordan), the proximity talks will apparently still happen (over the Arab League’s reported protestations). Although, the New York Times reports, disagreements remain even on those: the Palestinians see them as focusing on borders and the like—on the substance of what peace would look like—while the Israelis see their ideal end result as merely putting the two sides in the same room together. The Israelis, in other words, appear more content to take things slowly than the Palestinians do.
Which begs the question: is time on Israel’s side? Demographically, of course not: every day that passes, the Palestinians attain a higher percentage of people between the river and the sea. And politically? Israel’s main supporter, the United States, seems (justifiably) as close to wit’s end as ever. The Jerusalem Post puts it best: Biden’s speech in Tel Aviv today (transcript here), while overwhelmingly about the importance of maintaining America’s and Israel’s close ties, was also “a get-your-act-together lecture from a frustrated parent to a beloved but occasionally errant child.” In private, Biden was apparently much more direct: “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden, long known as a top American friend of Israel’s, told Prime Minister Netanyahu (my bold). “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have an unfortunate tendency to miss opportunities for peace. But it seems increasingly clear that the Israelis, more than the Palestinians, have fewer of those left.
Analysis: Biden’s Get-Your-Act-Together Lecture [JPost]