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For Lack of a Better Option

Why the U.S. cut the freeze-extension deal

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President Obama Sunday.(Yuri Gripas-Pool/Getty Images)

Yesterday, the Washington Redskins signed Donovan McNabb, their quarterback who is a week shy of 34, to a massive, five-year contract. The logic behind it could not merely have been the way he was playing: He has not been playing up to standard. The logic, rather, was that he has played well over the course of his long career, and that there is inherent value in stability, and perhaps above all that he is the quarterback they have now, and since you are not guaranteed a quarterback of even remotely his caliber—there are not 32 good quarterbacks in the 32-team NFL—if you have one of the quarterbacks who has proven the ability to deliver consistent success, you go with him, and unless you are prepared to take a radically different direction, at great risk, you double down on him. The problem is that big signings of over-the-hill free agents have been a Redskins tradition for the past 15 years, and it is part of why they have one won playoff game in that time. As Marc Lynch described the signing, “The deal seems to epitomize the unimaginative, tactics-focused” approach.

Whoops! Lynch wasn’t talking about the McNabb deal. Over the weekend, the United States offered Israel a package of security and aid guarantees in exchange for a 90-day extension of the prior ten-month construction freeze in the West Bank (though not East Jerusalem). Should Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet approve the deal, Israel gets 20 high-tech jets plus further military aid; a promise that the U.S. will veto any unilateral Palestinian statehood at the United Nations; and a pledge not to ask for a further extension.

Why should this freeze be different from the previous freeze—when nothing was accomplished beyond a few perfunctory and preliminary direct talks between the two sides? You can talk yourself into reasons why: The notion that talks this round will focus on borders, not settlements—which (as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out the other day) is the more pressing issue, and one that will actually also help resolve the settlement issue—is promising. But you can talk yourself into the McNabb extension, too (he is championship-caliber, he just needs pass-catchers and a better offensive line, and locking him down gives the Skins the time to build those things, etc).

At base, the deal is, as the Washington Post astutely reports, “A triumph of hope over experience.” Nobody could possibly think this is a good option. What one could think is that, given U.S. history as Israel’s patron (and its basically unquestionable status) as well as U.S. regional interests (Israel was probably due for a military upgrade for Iran-related reasons anyway), getting the freeze extended was probably the best possible option, even if on its face it seems like (to mix football metaphors) Charlie Brown lining up one more time to kick the ball that Lucy will inevitably yank away. (Not to be totally unfair: The United States has admitted that the year-long timeframe for peace it established a few months ago was probably over-optimistic.)

But don’t only ask me! From the left, Bernard Avishai argues that focusing on borders, while perhaps strategically wise, is a tactical non-starter, because a final discussion about borders is the last thing Israel’s powerful right wants, or will stand for. For the realists, Aaron David Miller notes that talking about borders when Jerusalem is seemingly off-the-table may be worse than worthless. Roger Cohen mentions that the split among the Palestinians, chiefly between Fatah and Hamas, makes discussion of a peace deal absurd. (The Fatah-run Palestinian Authority is among the extension’s largest skeptics.) Christopher Hitchens takes a closer look at exactly whom the deal is being done with—namely, the right-wing crazies in Netanyahu’s own government.

And if (if? ha!) the deal doesn’t work? There will be talk (as Lynch floats) of a radical new approach, or some sort of thing. But in fact, the deal has the effect of locking the United States and Israel into a closer partnership, more strongly binding their interests together; it makes it less likely that the U.S. will fundamentally change its overarching Mideast strategy, which contains as its pillar the fact that Israel is a number-one regional ally.

There will still be issues in the Mideast to deal with even if no peace is reached, just as there will still be 16 games to play each season (well, barring a lockout next year, anyway). We will need an ally, and the Redskins will need a quarterback. The Skins are paying a guy who took one team to five conference championships a whole lot of money, so they may as well start him. There will be disappointments—last night’s utter butt-kicking, by McNabb’s former team, comes to mind. There will also be triumphs; but they will be small. Talk to me when the Redskins are playing in February; and talk to me when all the pieces are in place—a willing Israeli government, a Palestinian partner capable of cutting the deals that would need to be cut, less Israeli fear about Iran—and a real peace deal can be made. Til then, I’m just looking for a few Sundays when the situation will seem a little less bad than it really is.

A 90-Day Bet on Mideast Peace Talks [NYT]
Analysis: U.S. Pinning Its Mideast Hopes on 90-Day Settlement Freeze [WP]

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What, no talk of how the Right sees this as a potential honeypot, locking Israel into submitting to the US’s every whim, lest the US threaten to withhold the veto on Palestinian unilateral statehood? Isn’t that a crucial component of the analysis? As it is, some prominent young Jewish Dems, like this blogger at Jewlicious, are REALLY going after Obama now:

And once you lose people like him, who wholeheartedly endorsed the Gaza disengagement (maybe a little too enthusiastically for my taste), you’re never getting them back. Remember what Reagan said? “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left me.”

Mr. Tracy, your article frustrates me to no end. Creating a peace treaty and a subsequent Palestinian state is an incredibly complicated process that is nuanced and will take a huge amount of effort to create, much less sustain. Any time a step is taken to further this goal it should be lauded, not condemned. Your article seems aimed at setting up your ability to say, “I told you so” if (or when as you clearly think this will lead) this attempt fails so you can take a victory lap.

You should be asking yourself what is your role in creating peace between Israel and the Palestinians. By all means challenge Obama, Bibi, the Jewish, Palestinian and Arab communities. We all need a reminder, and a push, to strive to do, and demand, more when it comes to this issue. But you’re not doing that. You’re making it harder for peace to happen; harder for those that can do something to do it.

Please sir, rise to the challenge of doing something positive for this Conflict that I’m living in the middle of and not work against it.

Let’s face it, the US has been fading as a regional power since Bush eliminated Iraq as a credible deterrent to Iran. Since then it has been downhill all the way. Bush not only realized (or not?) that he had paved the way for Iran ascendant, but that he now needed Iran in order to contain the threat to US troops from Iranian inspired, armed, trained and led Shiite militias (one of the absurd assumptions of the Bush Administration was that the Sunni-Baath oppressed Shia’s would welcome the US forces as “liberators”!) Just to make certain the Iranians understood America’s friendship and good intentions, Bush put Gates, openly opposed to confronting Iran for any reason, as Secretary of State, and Mike Mullen, also vocal against attacking, as Chief of Staff. And icing for the cake of reassurance, Bush opened a State Department “interest section” in downtown Teheran for Ahmadinejad’s cooperation in reigning in the al-Sadrist militia in Baghdad, providing Bush to fig leaf of “victory” in order to adopt Obama’s demand for a “withdrawal date,” just in time for the presidential elections!

But Obama won anyway. And kept Gates, and kept Mullen, and expanded the unwinnable war in Afghanistan as the US faced the final indignity of defeat after nearly a decade of the Iraq war, an Iranian-inspired, democratically-elected government in Iraq! And Israel not making peace with the Palestinians became the Obama mantra; Israel, not absurd American strategic blunders in two misguided wars, was endangering the US position, our troops engaged in those wars daily threatened by Iranian arms and officers!

Part 2. Well, clearly, if Israeli intransigence is the problem, the solution is to force Israel, always volunteering to enter negotiations, and the Palestinians, always resistant to enter negotiations, into negotiations. And from day one, more principle than diplomatic acumen, the Obama Administration decided the main roadblock to those negotiations was an issue never previously so, the settlements. In fact since 1967 the settlements have been and issue of, not precondition to, negotiations.

Now, having created an artificial barrier Obama is forced to force Israel with face-saving gestures, to renew a self-imposed moratorium intended to induce the ever-reluctant Palestinians to sit with them about creating a Palestinian state. And of course, when the Palestinians balk at continuing to talk at the end of the new 90-day moratorium, the fault will be Israeli intransigence, not an absurd, perhaps naïve, US policy the inevitable end of which will be the US as a minor player in the Middle East, and the world.

First, we in Israel do not play American football. Second, we do not think in terms of a season. Third, we have had dreams for thousands of years. Slowly we learned not to phantasize, but look at reality. No matter, what the USA will do, the Saudis will continue pumping money into Afganistan, Pakistan and Palestine to foment hate against the Americans. It is time for Obama’s alarm clock to sound its waking call.Learn who is on your side. Appeasement of the enemy, or semi-enemies (all they did was mark a date on the calendar 9/11) never works. Remember Chamberlain. He dragged into the II World War. By the way, the Democrats were in power.


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For Lack of a Better Option

Why the U.S. cut the freeze-extension deal

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