POLITICIANS OF both parties did Israel no favors this week when they chastised President Obama for spelling out his principles for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Whether it was Republican Mitt Romney claiming the president had “thrown Israel under the bus’’ or Harry Reid, the Senate’s Democratic leader, saying that “no one should set premature parameters about borders, about building, or about anything else,’’ Obama’s critics were disregarding the threats Israel will face without a two-state peace agreement.
Obama called for negotiations based on 1967 borders, with land swaps acceptable to both sides. There are honest differences about just how to divide the land and provide security. But in defending his approach in a speech to the group AIPAC, Obama conveyed an important warning: that “the extraordinary challenges facing Israel will only grow.’’ If current Israeli leaders and their American supporters ignore this warning, they do so at Israel’s peril.
Demographic trends will soon create a Palestinian majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. When that happens, Israel will face a choice between giving those Palestinians the vote or becoming an undemocratic apartheid state. Instead of explaining how he would cope with this dilemma if Israel keeps occupying the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his Tuesday address to a joint session of Congress presented a list of conditions the Palestinians must meet before negotiations can start — conditions that he knows the Palestinians will reject.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Advances in missile technology will inevitably leave Israel less secure. And the political changes rippling through the Mideast threaten to leave Israel ever more isolated. Until recently, Israel could count on Turkey and Egypt as allies. Turkey was alienated when its citizens were killed in the 2010 Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla headed for Gaza; and the fall of Hosni Mubarak is almost certain to reduce Egypt’s cooperation with Israel.
It wasn’t just rhetoric when Obama told AIPAC, “We can’t afford to wait another decade, or two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace.’’ The most generous thing to say about Romney, Reid, and others who accuse Obama of betraying Israel is that they are oblivious to the actual challenges confronting Israel.