What's the Endgame for Israel?

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 10:49 PM EST

Jeffrey Goldberg interviews President Obama about the future prospects for Israel if it continues to refuse to negotiate seriously about the creation of a Palestinian state:

OBAMA: I have not yet heard, however, a persuasive vision of how Israel survives as a democracy and a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors in the absence of a peace deal with the Palestinians and a two-state solution. Nobody has presented me a credible scenario....Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?

GOLDBERG: You sound worried.

OBAMA: Well, I am being honest that nobody has provided me with a clear picture of how this works in the absence of a peace deal....When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?....And so if I’m thinking about the prime minister of Israel, I’m not somebody who believes that it’s just a matter of changing your mind and suddenly everything goes smoothly. But I believe that Bibi is strong enough that if he decided this was the right thing to do for Israel, that he could do it. If he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.

This has long been my view as well. I'm not naive about the difficulties of negotiating with the Palestinians, but even if you're much more hawkish than I am, my question has always been: what's the endgame? If Israel continues to pursue a hawkish path, what happens? Is a permanent occupation of the West Bank the goal? Is any other outcome even possible? And is that really credible? Is it good for Israel? Will the rest of the world tolerate it forever?

Maybe in their hearts, the uber-hawks have simply accepted this as the best of a bad bunch of options. The West Bank will remain an occupied colony forever; it will be a drain on Israel, but not an unsustainable one; and the rest of the world will complain but, ultimately, do nothing. That doesn't sound like a stable solution to me, but Israelis have tolerated it for nearly half a century now, so maybe they've decided it can last forever. I just don't know.