Author Etgar Keret, on assignment from Haaretz, accompanied the prime minister on his trip to Italy this week and reported on Benjamin Netanyahu's perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"This is an insoluble conflict because it is not about territory," Netanyahu said. "It is not that you can give up a kilometer more and solve it. The root of the conflict is in an entirely different place. Until Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, there will be no way to reach an agreement."
On Wednesday, Netanyahu reiterated this position in the Knesset. "The reason for the conflict, and for its continuation, is the refusal to recognize the Jewish people's nation-state in any borders," he said.
By declaring the conflict insoluble, Netanyahu is dooming Israel to live eternally by the sword, leaving no opening for reconciliation and understanding with the Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim world. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni was thus right to attack Netanyahu in the Knesset for burying the prospect of a peace deal and of normal life in Israel. She was also right to insist that the conflict can be solved if Israel makes "tough decisions."
The practical conclusion Netanyahu derives from his pessimistic evaluation of the situation is even more disturbing. Netanyahu demands that the Palestinians renounce their national ethos and recognize Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish people." He demands that Abbas commit himself to saying that a Jew in Brooklyn or London has more right to this country than an Arab citizen of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Haifa - and thereby essentially acknowledge that the Palestinians are foreign invaders in the Jewish people's state. Neither Abbas nor any other Palestinian leader could accept this diktat.
The chance of resolving the conflict lies in pragmatic arrangements to divide the land, which would lead to a new relationship between the two countries, Israel and Palestine. But Netanyahu is evading the task of building the future, which will inevitably require Israel to withdraw from the territories, evacuate settlements and divide Jerusalem. He prefers to entrench himself behind a pointless, hopeless argument about the past and demands that the Palestinian narrative be rewritten.
Netanyahu wants to debate with the Palestinians, not to compromise with them. There is no surer recipe for turning his claim that the conflict is insoluble into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and for driving the Palestinians into a third intifada.