Israel appears to be losing big time on the two issues topping its international agenda.
Predictions are that the greater powers will reach an agreement with Iran that the Prime Minister has said time and again will be very bad, worse than no agreement, and making no meaningful contribution to ending Iran''s capacity to create nuclear weapons.
Israel is getting assurances that the likely agreement is in its best interests. Some of those close to the top of the powerful, including the US Secretary of State, have departed from diplomatic niceties to accuse the Prime Minister of trying to sabotage American efforts on both Iran and Palestine. The latest message comes in the cancellation of a planned trip to Israel in order to spend Thanksgiving with his family, as if he just now recognized that Thanksgiving is about to happen.
Israelis trumpeted the remarks of French President François Hollande that were critical of his western colleagues'' posture with respect to Iran. Less appealing was Hollande''s participation in the condemnation of Israeli settlements as the major barrier to an accord with the Palestinians. Also problematic were Hollande''s statements in favor of an agreement with Iran, on the basis of some tweaking of what the US and others were inclined to offer.
Iran is not a done deal. There are comments out of Iran suggesting that those who run that country are not all that happy, and might dig in their heels against western efforts to limit them.
Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to complain about the US, most prominently to Hollande of France but also to Putin of Russia. Support comes not only from his party colleagues, but also from elsewhere on the political spectrum. A ranking security professional has said that the IDF is ready and able to cause a delay of many years in Iranian aspirations.
Israel is not a direct participant with Iran. Nonetheless, an examination of how those with the power are speaking, and maybe even altering their offers may show a respect for Israel''s interests and its capacities.
The most recent reminder of Iranian extremism came from assertions that Israel was behind a car bombing alongside its embassy in Beirut, despite claims of responsibility by a Sunni group allied with al-Qaeda.
al-Qaeda may deserve a bad reputation among westerners who know a little bit about the Middle East. Now it is time to recognize that Sunni-Shiite carnage dwarfs the bloodshed associated with Zionism.
Sentiments toward the settlements held by the governments of western Europe and the present American administration seem hardly more nuanced than their attitudes about al-Qaeda.
No American administration has ever supported the Israeli position on the settlements. The second Bush came the closest with a letter saying that any negotiations should take account of demographic changes that had occurred since 1967. The Obama team has been the most outspoken in condemning Israeli settlements, seeming to backtrack from the Bush concession by its explicit linking of construction in post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem with its condemnation of settlements.
The US population may be somewhere else on this issue. Polls continue to show substantial majorities more inclined to the Israeli than the Palestinian side of the disputes. However, the anti-settlement posture is also apparent, especially on the left, among Democrats, on campuses, even among some Christian fundamentalist preachers, and is not lacking among Jews.
A wide spectrum of Israelis bristle when "settlements" applies to Jerusalem. A somewhat lesser number have trouble understanding the opposition to construction in the major blocs this side of the wall.
In contrast, it is little more than the religious and nationalist right that demands extensive settlement throughout the West Bank, and this produces loud condemnation from the Israeli left and from some in the Israeli center.
Widely shared here is the view is that settlements are not the major issue between Israel and Palestinians. Settlements would have been regulated by mutual agreement years ago if the Palestinians had accommodated themselves to Israel''s existence, Israel''s refusal to accept a mass of refugees and their descendants, and concern about the destructive character of Palestinian incitement against Israel.
Why the obsession on settlements?
Some of the explanation comes from the wave of human rights enactments, and concern for the weak linked to international revulsion against the Holocaust. Advocates of justice do not seem to worry that the survivors of history''s worse offense are being asked to pay the price for changes in sentiment.
Roots of anti-colonialism are older. They appeared prominently in efforts to deal with the collapse of empires as a result of World War I. The Balfour Declaration was part of that, insofar as the Ottoman Empire was one of the losers.
While some Jews see the Balfour Declaration as giving us everything from the Mediterranean to Iraq, the same concern to deal with the Ottoman legacy that produced Balfour also created what was initially called Transjordan.
Palestinian nationalism had yet to be born when World War I was being settled, but they came soon after. Moreover, Balfour was careful to make it clear that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."
The Jews did better than some of the other nationalists who claimed recognition at the Paris peace conference, but we continue to pay the price of coming late to the development of nations. The British already had a history of trouble with Indians. Filipino insurgents were no happier with the Americans than they had been with the Spanish. The American and Australian conquests of their continents at the expense of aborigines may have deserved the label of Holocausts, but were safely in the past.
The Jewish story of David vs Goliath weakens the advocates of extensive settlement. And there may be something about the Jews that makes us easy targets. Individual Jews have long competed for being the most progressive of creatures. There should be no surprised that many are opposed to settlement. Extremists among them refuse to visit the post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Among non-Jews are those who expect more by way of decency from Jews than from others. In this cluster of critics are many who overlook whatever the Palestinians have contributed to the unpleasantness. And there are not a few in the world who expect only the worse from the Jews, and miss no opportunity to blame us for just about everything.
Iran is currently more fluid than Palestine. Something is expected to happen at the current meetings in Geneva.
Not so at the ongoing meetings with Palestinians. The Palestinians are blaming settlements, and many others are saying Amen. However, enough Israelis, from a broad enough portion of the political spectrum, have tired of Palestinian rejectionism. Without any greater sign that an Israeli left is growing in its electoral appeal, the rules of democracy are likely to keep things pretty much as they are. That means continued construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs, but no overt annexation of further territory and only limited construction beyond the security wall.
Will the Palestinians pursue and achieve UN and greater international recognition of statehood? Perhaps.
Will it make any difference for the lives of Palestinians and Israelis? Maybe, but maybe not.
Lots of other things are happening in the politics of the Middle East and the US that may influence what happens here, and the Jews have not lost the capacity to maneuver among dangers and possibilities.