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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Iran and the 'Palestinians': Separate or connected?

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Israel has decided to tie progress on the 'Palestinian' issue to progress on stopping Iran's nuclear program.
The new Israeli government will not move ahead on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in U.S. efforts to stop Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon and limit Tehran's rising influence in the region, according to top government officials familiar with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's developing policy on the issue.

"It's a crucial condition if we want to move forward," said Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, a member of the Israeli parliament and former ambassador to the United States. "If we want to have a real political process with the Palestinians, then you can't have the Iranians undermining and sabotaging."


"Realistically, we need to keep Iran at bay," Ayalon said, and until that happens, the Israeli government will largely limit itself to matters such as trying to improve the Palestinian economy and strengthen its civil institutions. "The Iranian clock should be measured in months," he said in reference to Israel's view that the Islamic republic is approaching the ability to make a nuclear weapon. By contrast, the timetable on Palestinian statehood "is open-ended."
Over at Power Line, Paul Mirengoff calls that strategy "excellent" and lauds it as "statecraft at its best."
First, Israel's approach is consistent with its interests. For Israel, Iran's progress on the nuclear front is the most pressing problem; resolving issues with the Palestinians is of much less concern. After all, Iran, a sworn enemy, may be on the verge of developing weapons that could destroy Israel. The Palestinians, though still capable of small acts of terrorism, pose no such threat.

Second, it creates something like a win-win situation for Israel. In the highly unlikely event that Obama produces serious progress in curbing Iran's nuclear program, that's a big win for Israel. If Obama does not produce such progress, Israel has a basis for resisting his entreaties to engage with the Palestinians (naturally, if Israel concludes that such engagement is in its interest, it can proceed on that basis anyway). Nor is Israel precluded by Obama's failure from taking action of its own against Iran, should it conclude that such action is necessary.
In the same report linked above, the Washington Post reports that Israeli analysts agree with Mirengoff.
Israeli analysts and Netanyahu's advisers say that while his focus on Iran may limit the likelihood of any near-term progress toward Palestinian statehood, it opens the door for a broader and more profound step forward if Obama and the Arab states agree with his view of Iran.

Netanyahu's approach "completely recalibrates expectations and understandings about where we really are," said Dan Diker, a senior foreign policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a think tank that is close to the Netanyahu administration. "We can only address the region in the context of an ascendant Iran that is close to nuclear weapons and is destabilizing nearly every country in the Middle East."
But as was the case at the end of last week, when Netanyahu first raised and then backed off a demand that the 'Palestinians' recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for resuming negotiations, Netanyahu appears to be backing off the attempt to link progress with the 'Palestinians' to Iran.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Wednesday denied a report that Israel will not move ahead with diplomatic talks with the Palestinians until the US places more pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program.

"We will deal with the Palestinian issue as if there is no Iranian issue, and with the Iranian issue as if there is no Palestinian issue," Ayalon said.
And the Washington Post quote from Ayalon?
Ayalon seemed to suggest this quote was misinterpreted.

The link between Iran and the Palestinian issue, "if there is such a link, is a negative one. The Iranian influence [among the Palestinians] is destructive," he said.
But there is hope. The 'moderate' Arab states share Netanyahu's concern over Iran and believe that Iran is a more important issue right now than the 'Palestinians.' For Netanyahu to push that line when he visits Washington next month would therefore not be seen as unreasonable anywhere outside the White House. But to stand up to the pressure he will undoubtedly face from the Obama administration, Netanyahu is going to have to find some ba you know what.


At 4:28 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Bibi's main problem is that he has a history of talking tough but caving under pressure when the heat is on. So far his behavior is not a good sign for any talks with Obama. If he folds before the American President, people will know there's not much credibility to his words. After all, if you aren't willing to pay the price for your beliefs, why should people believe you? Israelis think Bibi is an eloquent speaker but he is also someone who has no real core beliefs.

I doubt he will prove them wrong but if he does surprise us, that would be welcome news.

At 1:43 AM, Blogger R-MEW Editors said...

Netanyahu was elected to deal with the threat from Iran. Even the Israeli Attorney General will grant him a grace period to do so. Once that threat has been dealt with, there will be plenty of opportunity for the usual internal and external pressures to force Bibi to surrender his principles with respect to the Palestinians.

At 3:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto what NormanF said.


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