If Israel wants to help the US isolate Iran, it must stop its support of the settlements and Jewish development in east Jerusalem, former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told Army Radio Wednesday morning.
When asked by Army Radio if Israel had to choose between Washington and a settlement such as Nokdim, Indyk responded, “Yes.” He warned that Israel stood to jeopardize its historically strong relationship with the US if it continued to take steps that harmed America’s vital interests in the Middle East.
The US believes that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has harmed its efforts to isolate Iran and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, said Indyk.
He also said that Obama has not ruled out a military option.
“The President [Barack Obama] told Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] in his first meeting that the military option was on the table. It has never been taken off the table by President Obama. What has been taken off the table is the policy of engagement with the Iranians,” said Indyk.
Instead the US now seeks to isolate Iran, and it needs Israel to support those efforts by meeting Palestinian demands, a move that would relaunch the peace process, Indyk said.
“This is a serious crisis” in US-Israel relations, said Indyk, who spoke with Army Radio after writing a similar op-ed in The New York Times
called, “When your best friend gets angry.”
He warned Israelis about chalking up the recent tensions to poor chemistry between Netanyahu and Obama.
“No doubt that is part of the issue, but that is not the thing that matters,” said Indyk.
What is at issue here is that the US now believes that a continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict harms its strategic interests in the Middle East, he said, adding that this perception emerged under former US President George Bush, and is not just a consequence of the policies of Obama’s administration.
“It is important for Israelis to understand that something fundamental has changed,” said Indyk.
The situation is now such that when it comes to east Jerusalem, “A zoning committee in the ministry of the interior can now do damage to the national interests of the United States,” said Indyk.
As a result, “Israel has to adjust its policy to the interest of the United States or there will be serious consequences,” he said.
It’s not the first time that Israel has had to bow to US interests, he added.
During the Yom Kippur war, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger asked former prime minister Golda Meir to stop the Israeli army and accept a cease-fire because continued hostilities could spark a nuclear war between the US and the former Soviet Union.
The US is now involved in two wars in the Middle East, said Inyk. Obama signs 30 to 40 condolence letters a month, which is “many more than the Israeli prime minister signs,” he added, so it has a vested interest it reducing tensions in the region.
An important step in that direction is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, said Indyk.
“If Israel is a superpower and does not need $3 billion in military assistance and the protection of the US, and the efforts of the US to isolate and pressure Iran, than go ahead and do what you like. If you need the US then you need to take American interests into account,” said Indyk.
Iran has already shown that it provokes conflict with Israel through Hamas and Hizbullah as a way to break out of isolation, he said.
“We have seen it time and time again. So therefore the US and Israel have to work to increase Iran’s isolation, Israel has to work to calm things down,” said Indyk.
Israeli talks with Syria would further isolate Iran, said Indyk. If the peace process with the Palestinians was advancing, then Iran could not use them as a card to play against Israel.
Netanyahu has said he wants to talk with the Palestinians, but has refused to acquiesce to their demand that construction in West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem be halted before such talks can take place.
“I do not think that it is too much to ask that some building tenders in east Jerusalem be deferred, not stopped, just deferred, in order to get those negotiations going. That is what the Obama administration is asking [for] and that is what the Israeli government will not do,” said Indyk.
He said he did not believe the comments Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made were inconsistent with a two-state solution in which Jerusalem served as a capital for both nations. There can be a united city with shared sovereignty, he said.
Lieberman has already supported the idea of placing the Arab suburbs of Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty.
“I do not see Lieberman as the obstacle. He wants to separate from the Palestinians. He is a radical territorial compromiser,” said Indyk.
“The problem is within the Likud party itself,” he added.
“The United States is very much Israel’s best friend and it provides
very strong support to Israel. There is deep bipartisan commitment that
stretches from the White House to Capitol Hill in support of a strong,
secure Israel at peace with its neighbors,” said Inydk.
But he warned that such a relationship was like a marriage, and should not be taken for granted.
“You have to work on it every day,” he said.