In the Middle East, I mean. As of May 2011, the decades-old mainstream vision of how peace might play out is stone cold dead. The status quo is also apparently the future.
Disclosure: I spent eleven years of my youth, between the ages of seven and eighteen, in Lebanon; my feelings on Middle-East issues could not be called moderate.
It seemed somehow a news event when Mr Obama, a couple of weeks ago, reiterated the conventional wisdom of what peace could look like: Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, swaps to keep some settlements in Israel, shared Jerusalem, no significant right of return. Yep, if a bi-national peace is possible, that’s what it has to look like.
But it’s not possible any more. The settler movement has put down deep roots in the West Bank, they’re not going to leave voluntarily, and there’s no majority combination of Israeli voting blocks that’s going to push them out, or even rein in their expansion. These people are determined that there should be no second state, and they hold a winning hand, geographically and politically.
Mr Netanyahu proclaimed to the US Congress, pausing often for standing ovations: “In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.” Which is more or less exactly the settler position.
And on the other side: There is no Palestinian majority which would accede to Mr Netanyahu’s demands, as expressed in that much-applauded speech: for an unshared Jerusalem, for continuing Israeli military occupation in the future Palestinian state, and for boundaries substantially larger than 1967’s.
Let’s ignore rights and wrongs and accept what is painfully obvious: Neither side in this dispute is willing to meet the other’s requirements, and neither side can compel the other by force.
So we can look forward to continued public anger. And to deaths; numbered in handfuls when maddened Palestinians launch trucks or rockets at Israelis, and in hundreds when maddened Israeli administrations launch the like of Operation Cast Lead.
But the anger and death is not quite irritating enough to force a resolution down the disputants’ throats. The international mechanisms of peace have been useless to date and there’s no reason to expect that to change. Those standing ovations for Mr Netanyahu? Essentially, they are wild applause for continuation of the status quo. So that’s what we’re going to get.
I suppose one could be optimistic about radical non-violence. One could hope that some combination of weariness and secularism will shift the balance. One could wonder about, on the one hand, the future of US-Israeli relations, and, on the other, the slow collapse of the network of Arab autocracies which were prime breeding-places (and funding agencies) for armed anger.
In the long run, who knows? Herbert Stein’s law probably applies: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”. The current Israel/Palestine scenario, given irresistible ethnic and cultural trends, looks to me like that. But if I were a politician, for the moment I’d give up wasting time and energy on the two-state path.