Monday, May 18, 2009

Why Netanyahu and Obama see key issues differently...

An Analysis in THE JERUSALEM POST, May. 18, 2009, by GIORA EILAND, a retired major-general and former head of the National Security Council; currently a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies [posted here verbatim]:

Three issues will be a likely source of dispute in Monday's meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The first relates to Iran, the second relates to the Palestinian question and the third concerns the linkage between the two.

Israel is not disturbed by a US-Iran dialogue, but rather by what the United States may agree to as a result.

The United States's consistent position has been that to guarantee that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons, Iran must cease its uranium enrichment program. Israel is concerned that Iran and the US will agree on the following formula: Iran will continue to enrich uranium (ostensibly for peaceful purposes) but will assure the US that it will not exploit its control over the nuclear fuel cycle to advance to the next stage and manufacture a bomb.

Israel will be hard-pressed to accept a formula of this sort, since de facto permission to enrich uranium leaves Iran the ability to channel it toward a military purpose whenever it likes, on short notice, and without advance warning to outside observers.

Regarding the Palestinian question, the assumption in the United States that there is only one solution to the issue, namely, the two-state solution, has intensified of late. The two-state solution, as it was conceived since Oslo (1993) through Camp David (2000) and Annapolis (2007), is as follows:

a. The Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are the (only) possible borders for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

b. A Palestinian state will be established in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip based on the 1967 borders, with minor changes.

This solution is not attractive to either side (the Palestinian side must of course take into account the Hamas position) and is difficult, if not impossible to implement (it would require the evacuation of over 100,000 Israelis, at a cost of $30 billion).

Even if it is implemented, it does not ensure stability. On the contrary: Israel will not have defensible borders, and the Palestinians will not have the necessary conditions to create a viable state.

This solution rests on a number of assumptions, some of which are not correct now, and some of which were never correct.

Certainly the argument that this is the only potential solution must first of all explain why it has failed consistently, from 1937 through 2007, and especially why it failed in 2000, when conditions for implementation were far more auspicious than conditions today.

Israel's prime minister does not object to a political solution, and he quite understands that a political solution will compel Israel to cede control of most of the West Bank.

Yet unlike his predecessor, Netanyahu insists on the need to examine some of the assumptions underlying "two states" before engaging in serious negotiations on a permanent agreement. An examination of this sort may suggest different alternatives, or at the very least, improvements to the formula now on the table.

The third issue in dispute involves the linkage between the previous two issues. The United States contends that to isolate Iran, it needs the support of the Arab world, and in order to enlist the support of the Arab world (particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved.

Israel feels otherwise, and for several reasons.

First, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan share a supreme interest in blocking Iran, and therefore they need no recompense in Israeli-Palestinian terms for something that is of the utmost importance in any event.

Second, to exert sufficient pressure, Iran must be isolated politically and economically. This can be achieved with help from Russia and China, and not with help from the Arab states. Enlisting the support of Russia and China brings with it a high price tag, but progress on the Israeli-Palestinian question is not the right currency.

Israel, in fact, feels that any potential connection between the issues should be reversed: In order to create the conditions for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Syria, Iran's nuclear ambitions must first be blocked.

There is no reason that these differences of opinion should lead to a crisis. The Obama administration has not had any sort of dialogue yet with Israel's new government, and it is important to give this first meeting a chance.

The bottom line is that the United States's principal interests are not that far removed from Israel's. Both countries want to block Iran and both are interested in stable relations between Israel and its neighbors.

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