Speaking to the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee the other day, Vice President Joe Biden said: "Israel has to work toward a two-state solution."
"You're not going to like my saying this," he added, but the Jewish state should not build more settlements on Palestinian territory, and should "dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement."
Actually, it is doubtful that many people in that audience disliked - or even disagreed with -- Biden's admonitions. The same is true in Israel where polls have for years shown widespread support for the dream of Jewish and Palestinian Arab states living in peace and aspiring to cooperation, if not friendship. As for dismantling settlements and giving up land - a commodity pint-sized Israel does not have in abundance - Israelis have repeatedly demonstrated that they are prepared to make significant concessions.
In exchange for a peace treaty with Egypt, Israel in 1982 withdrew all its soldiers and settlers from the Sinai, a territory almost three times the size of Israel. In 2005, Israel dismantled every settlement and outpost in Gaza. Both the Sinai and Gaza, it should be recalled, were taken from Egypt as the consequence of a war launched by Egypt -- one of several wars waged by Israel's Arab neighbors with the goal of wiping Israel off the map.
The result of Israel's exodus from Gaza, as the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer recently observed, is that the Palestinians "already have a state." The problem, he noted, is that it's "a terrorist state that has been at war with Israel ever since the day the Israelis left."
The Palestinians in Gaza have chosen Hamas to rule them. Hamas is a militant Islamist organization funded and instructed by Iran's ruling mullahs. In its religious ideology, it is virtually indistinguishable from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It wages what it calls a jihad to exterminate Israel. That is its contribution to the global, radical Islamic revolution against infidels and moderate Muslims. All of this is a matter of fact, not conjecture. Hamas leaders articulate it unambiguously. The Hamas Charter is nothing if not candid.
For example, Article 11 declares that every inch of Israel is "consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up." Article 13 states: "Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. ... There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad." Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum has specifically rejected "the two-state solution ... because it represents a clear recognition of Israel." Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar has stated: "We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay, nor his ownership of any inch of land."
How does Israel make peace with those who hold such views and regard compromise by other Palestinians not just as an error but as an apostasy? How does the United States facilitate a peace process under such circumstances? No one knows. President Bush and his peace processors did not. President Obama and his peace processors do not.
What we should, however, know by now is what does not work: appeasement; pretending that Hamas and Iran's rulers don't mean what they say; deluding ourselves into believing that because we would prefer to live in peace, so must our enemies (if only we would address their "legitimate grievances"); refusing to recognize that rewarding extremism and terrorism is a loser's game.
Next week, Israel's new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, comes to Washington to meet with America's new President, Barack Obama. They will agree on goals but they are likely to disagree sharply on how to achieve them.
Obama can be expected to point out that there is now a unique opportunity for Israel to find common ground with Arab neighbors who are alarmed over the prospect of an expanding and power-hungry Iranian (read: not Arab), Shia (read: not Sunni) empire. Obama will add that to take advantage of this circumstance requires lowering the flame on the Palestinian front.
My guess is that Netanyahu will say that Israel cannot continually make tangible concessions in exchange for empty promises followed by terrorist attacks. Yes, Israel does need to "work toward a two-state solution," but with the recognition that two states are no solution if one of them seeks the extermination of the other.
Netanyahu may further argue that so long as Hamas wields power in Gaza and is making inroads on the West Bank, and so long as the Islamic Republic is backing Hamas and Hezbollah, pulling Syria's strings, tightening its grip on Lebanon, sponsoring terrorism and developing nuclear weapons, peace will remain as elusive as a mirage in the Judean Desert - which Hamas also claims. Joe Biden may not like Netanyahu saying that; on the other hand, he just might recognize that it has the ring of truth.