This online debate between The New Republic's Jonathan Chait and Sullivan is highlighted today in Andrew's blog. I link to it because much is clear in Andrew's argument: he sees Israel as the solution to the problem. There is some truth to that; as the player with pretty much all the power, plus all the power of the U.S., Israel can act, defend itself, and gain some much-needed political capital among nations at the same time (although it can be debated just how much Israel can gain from nations in Europe and elsewhere that do not favor Israel no matter the circumstances).
Here's where Sullivan loses me:
I favor action on the settlements because that alone is currently practical, and could help shift that dynamic into a virtuous cycle with no cost whatever to Israeli security.
I do see where the complete halting of new settlements in the West Bank is more practical than, say, Arab concession of Israel's right to exist or capitulation on their "right of return" demand. But the latter half of that sentence is utter bullshit: as Israel exists in a region where several governments, and not a few people, want to see the country cease to exist, Israel's decision to halt settlement construction will be propagandized into a victory for Arabs and for Muslims, and a major blow to both Israel and the United States (which the Republicans would then spin into a reason for new leadership in the U.S.). Such a political victory will serve to undermine Israel's security as it then searches for leadership that can navigate the waters of peaceful coexistence with its neighbors (which has yet to be fully tested since 1948).
Sullivan also admits that Chait can win this debate if he were to say what he'd like the Obama administration to do now. But the administration has been very clear since last year: halt settlements. He's right that Obama has actually given Israel a way out of this mess, but Israel is wagering that Obama will not last politically and that a friendlier, Republican administration will come in and publicly rebuke all critics of Israel as critics of the U.S., and then look the other way as Israel prepares for armed conflict with Iran over nuclear arms. But to say that Israel's action on settlements is the most practical starting point is to dismiss Palestinian and Arab attitude about Israel's existence. You see, the easy thing for Israel to do is defend itself against terrorist acts -- the Gaza blockade, the West Bank security wall, increased military presence all over the country. The much harder part has been appealing to people who believe Israel has no place in that part of the world (or who believe Jews should be exterminated).
I readily admit that Israel's actions of late (flotilla, assassination in Dubai, snubbing of VP Biden while he was visiting) seriously damage its already damaged reputation in the U.S. and in the world. Israel's leadership is taking a wild chance that Obama will not be re-elected, since while many American Jews love Israel, they also love Obama in overwhelmingly large numbers (and that's not changing for most of them). But I maintain that Israel cannot and should not act unilaterally to move the process forward. Ariel Sharon tried to do that in Gaza and it backfired badly. Any action Israel takes must absolutely coincide with Palestinian and Arab action to concede some serious points: Israel's right to exist as a Jewish/Zionist state, a halt to terrorist violence, and abandoning the right of return. Israeli's ain't gonna give up their homes so that displaced Arabs can move back in.