Here's a transcript of my conversation with Eliot Spitzer Thursday about Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress:
Eliot Spitzer: You wrote an article in today's Washington Post and to say it is critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu is perhaps an understatement. You say he will be a "comma in history". That's pretty harsh criticism. What do you mean by that?
Fareed Zakaria: I mean that what Netanyahu has revealed is that he really is not interested in a two-state solution. He's not interested in getting any kind of deal. At the end of the day, there's going to be a deal.
Everyone understands what the parameters of it are. The Palestinians are in many ways screwed up. The Israelis in many ways are screwed up. But we know what it's going to look like. It's going to look roughly like the deal Bill Clinton put together in 2000 - land for peace.
And Netanyahu just always finds some way that there is a problem. When the Palestinians were divided, he said he couldn't negotiate with them because they were divided. Then they unified. He said, "I can't negotiate with you because you're united."
When President Obama makes a tiny modification - not even clearly a modification to a stated U.S. policy - he says, I can't negotiate because of that. And what that means is ultimately history is going to pass him by.
Let's drill down on this a little bit - the issue of whether or not there was any change in U.S. policy. Look, I don't see one but the critical phrasing was the '1967 borders, with agreed upon swaps' as what you referred to the foundation for land for peace. Do you view those words as being a change in either U.S. policy or what Israel understood U.S. policy to be?
It can't be because if you look at the statements made by every Israeli and American statesman over the last 10 years, including George W. Bush, including a joint statement between Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu, they make references to the '67 borders.
Now, you could say that this was the first time a U.S. president in a speech made this kind of statement. But frankly, this is the kind of Jesuitical distinction without a difference.
Everyone knows the basic issue is you're starting with the '67 borders. The Israelis give back most of it. They keep some of it. In return, they swap some land to the Palestinians.
All right. Let me take Netanyahu's side here for a moment even though you know I agree with everything you just said.
He would say that when there was a peace accord on the table in 2000 - Bill Clinton's proposal - Arafat said no. And since then, the Palestinians themselves have taken every opportunity to reject peace. When they got Gaza back, they used Gaza and have continued to use Gaza as a launching pad for missiles. So why should we now give them more land back?
Look, there may be an argument for not doing the deal at all. That's a separate issue. But the contours of the deal is what we're talking about. The Palestinians, as I said, the Palestinians and Abba Eban's famous phrase have "never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity." And they've done it in many different ways. To my mind, the Palestinians right now have been pretty responsible.
I hold no grief for the Palestinians. My basic position, Eliot, is that the Israelis are in a stronger position. They are more secure. They're the strongest country in the Middle East by most measures. They have the strongest economy. They have the strongest military. They have 250 nuclear weapons. It is worth then taking some risks for peace to get this albatross off their backs.
Let me push back on a couple little points, though. You have Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, now entering into this unity agreement with Hamas. Hamas is by everybody's understanding a terrorist organization. Is it irrational for the Israeli leadership to say you can't expect us to negotiate with them?
Look, President Obama said as much. He said you can't negotiate with them. So what should Hamas do right now? What should Fatah or what should Abbas do - the leader of the Palestinian Authority - right now to eliminate that excuse that the Israelis can very legitimately invoke not to negotiate?
Look, the IRA was committed to terrorism while the British government was negotiating. The Basque separatists were committed to terrorism while the Spanish government negotiated with them. The Kurdish terrorists were committed to it while the Turkish government negotiated with them.
I don't say that there's nothing to this problem but this is part of what happens when you a group that has been in their view struggling for national liberation and your view a terrorist organization and getting them over that bridge where they renounced violence and renounced terrorism and accepted a deal is a complicated one.
I don't know that there is a cookie cutter formula that says you have to do it this way. The goal is to get to a two-state solution. And I think if the Israelis and Prime Minister Netanyahu were being creative about that, you can find ways to have private, off-camera conversations about this.
I agree with everything you have just said. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu should have learned how to declare victory. The speech that President Obama gave was so powerful in support of critical issues that are essential to Israel's security from the point about Hamas, as it related to going to the U.N. this September, as it related to the issue of right of return.
Everybody knows that Palestinian refugees will not be permitted to return and overwhelm the state of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu should have declared victory and said, "We are with you, we will walk with you towards peace." He would have looked good.
Having said that, his poll numbers back in Israel have gone through the roof - way, way up since he gave that speech in Congress. He's playing to his domestic electorate and maybe that is part of this.
So, Fareed, time runs out but as always your wisdom on this is appreciated and we all learn from you.
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Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here: