Rightly or wrongly, Obama has made the settlement issue a test of his credibility, and if he backs down then all the progress he has made will wash away instantly. That makes this a pivotal moment, whether or not an Obama administration focused on Iran wants it to be one. Most Palestinians, with their well-earned skepticism of American policy, expect Obama to back down. Most Israelis probably do as well. And that would be tragic, because without much publicity Obama's pressure has already started generating some important results on the ground -- not just Netanyahu's carefully hedged uttering of an emasculated two state formula, but the significant easing of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, the lifting of some of the more ludicrous parts of the blockade of Gaza, the release of Hamas prisoners (including its Parliamentarians) by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and reports that the Egyptians are planning an unveiling of a Hamas-Fatah unity government agreement on July 7.
That Israel has quietly made significant changes to the checkpoints in the last few weeks -- after ignoring six years worth of Road Map commitments, snubbing Tony Blair and the Quartet's persistent demands, dismissing the recommendations of the World Bank and other international development agencies, and greatly expanding them even while negotiating during the Annapolis process -- suggests that Obama's tough love approach has actually been the only one able to achieve real results. It hasn't gotten much publicity, and it's only a minor thing in the wider context of the occupation, the battle over the settlements, the tortuous politics of the final status issues, the trends in Israeli politics and the disastrous Palestinian political divisions. But it shows that there is already something to show for his policy and that it's worth fighting for. But all those developments could disappear in a heartbeat if the Israelis decide that they have gotten the better of the Obama administration.
Peace Now (via) gives a rundown of the top "myths" used to justify avoiding a settlement freeze. A big problem is that even the more reasonable anti-freeze arguments (like "vertical growth") aren't being deployed in good faith. And in any event, a goodly chunk of settler growth isn't coming from natural growth anyway.
I'm not adverse to a face saving compromise here. But it has to involve more that symbolic concessions by the Israelis -- it needs to get us moving down the real path to creating a viable environment to a Palestinian state. And, I should add, if such a genuine compromise is reached, then I fully expect pro-peace elements of the blogosphere to support it and demand it be seen as a real step forward. A lot of times when Israelis and Palestinians take important steps, their opposing partisans dismiss them as falling short of the ideal. Of course they do -- if people were behaving ideally, we wouldn't have a conflict anymore. But we're long past the time when we could afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.