(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)
Israel’s policy is still ‘two states for two peoples.’
According to a recent poll, 68 percent of Americans are in favor of using a diplomatic approach to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Of course, most Americans and Israelis would love to see the Iranian nuclear weapons problem as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved peacefully; who wouldn’t? Unfortunately, President Barack Obama’s strategy is to offer straw-man choices between faulty narratives, portraying himself as the man of peace, and those who disagree with him as warmongers.
It is also unhelpful to play “got you” politics with comments made during the heat of a political battle, regarding Benjamin Netanyahu’s backtracking of his support for “two states for two peoples” at the end of the Israeli election.
To put that in perspective, let’s recall that in 2008 then-presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke in front of 15,000 members of the AIPAC conference and stated, “Let me be clear…Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
A New York Sun editorial at the time reported that a few days later Obama backtracked and was quoted as saying, “The truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech.”
The Sun pointed out that in an American Jewish Committee questionnaire that was published in January 2008, Obama said, “Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital, and no one should want or expect it to be re-divided.” In a position paper published in 2000 Obama stated, “Jerusalem should remain united and should be recognized as Israel’s capital.”
Yet today the president speaks as though building in Jewish neighborhoods within Jerusalem is a war crime, despite the overwhelming American consensus that these areas should in any case remain part of Israel.
My point is that politicians in America and Israel are equal opportunity offenders when it comes to propagating misleading rhetoric.
Viewing Israeli political campaigns from the point of view of American politics can be misleading, because of the difference between the structures of our two democracies. In American presidential general elections, both the Right and Left tend to moderate their views, moving toward the center in an attempt to gain independent votes.
In the Israeli multi-party parliamentary democracy, candidates more often move instead toward the fringes in general election campaigns, more like what we see in American presidential primaries. In Israel, after a coalition is formed, parties often then move to more conciliatory positions as policies are worked out.
Returning to the Iran question, the US administration is once again crafting a strategy to discredit opposition and demonize opponents as war hawks.
The discussion we should be having is to ask which approach will lead to a truly stable and peaceful result, knowing that we are dealing with a nationstate that has repeatedly misled the international community. We know this because of its 25-year history of developing an illicit nuclear program, while defying six UN Security Council resolutions.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, when speaking to the recent AIPAC conference, said that the administration’s approach with Iran is to “distrust but verify.” Who on earth would really be willing to bet their families’ lives that we would be able to verify what’s going on deep in Iran? We are asking Israelis, and in reality the rest of us too, to do just that.
The question that should be asked is whether the president’s diplomatic approach is more likely to create chaos, instability and war, with American boots on the ground, or whether there is a better diplomatic approach.
A strong case, and not a war-mongering one, can be made for more robust sanctions for greater American leverage, and a better deal.
A weak deal inexorably leading to nuclear weapons for Iran will prompt Sunni foes to insist on obtaining these weapons as surely as Pakistan followed India. In 2009, President Obama’s vision was for a nuclear-free Middle East; with a weak deal, the president will actually be the catalyst for unstoppable nuclear proliferation in the region, dramatically increasing the chances that nuclear material will end up in the hands of a non-state actor, i.e.
If the president is sincere, believing his diplomatic approach is truly the best one, he could reassure skeptics by specifically outlining consequences for potential future violations during the timeframe of the treaty. Spell out Susan Rice’s motto not as “distrust and verify,” but as “Distrust, verify, and consequences.”
The proposed deal reportedly involves very specific parameters, outlining a specific number of centrifuges, a set time for sunset provisions, and dates for relaxation of sanctions. But there should be equally specific metrics which if abrogated should automatically impose meaningful consequences.
They should be set out in detail, not debated in some politically polarized future. They should be dispassionately written down now and implemented if Iran reneges on its promises. Based on Iran’s history of deception, this is the only approach that could create any confidence that such a deal would prove to be more than the first of a series of fall-back positions, red lines to be crossed and ignored.
You may have noticed that I used the word “treaty” to describe the signing of an agreement between Iran and the US. It is in effect a treaty that is being negotiated, yet the administration has chosen a technically non-treaty approach to avoid congressional oversight, claiming that this is a non-binding executive action.
The Founders of the US would likely be very troubled by this overreach by the executive branch of government.
The American people deserve a robust discussion of the profound implications of this treaty for our safety, the relationship with our allies and for the relationship of Congress with future presidents.
The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.