Iran and the growing Islamic ascendancy in the region are acting as a barrier against any chances of soon restarting negotiations with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.
Netanyahu, in a meeting with visiting Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), was asked if he thought there was any chance of a quick return to the talks. While saying he was ready for their immediate resumption, the prime minister expressed skepticism that this was going to happen.
Iran, he said, was driving the Palestinian issue, more than the Palestinian issue was impacting on the world’s ability to deal with Iran.
Netanyahu’s point was that as long as Iran seemed to be ascendant, and as long as it supported a growing Islamist tendency in the region that is overwhelmingly hostile to Israel – including holding huge sway over Hamas – the Palestinian Authority was not going to come out against the way it perceived the regional winds were blowing.
Netanyahu’s remark to the senator was a throwback to the early days of US President Barack Obama’s term, when there was tension between Jerusalem and Washington over which issue to tackle first: Iran or the Palestinians.
The US position was that a breakthrough on the Palestinian issue would have a great deal of impact in dealing with Iran, as more Arab and Muslim countries would support the West’s effort to halt Iran’s nuclear march.
Israel’s position was, and remains, that if Iran was successfully dealt with and its regional influence reduced, it would be easier to strike a deal with the Palestinians since there would be fewer actors trying to torpedo any agreement.
The bulk of Netanyahu’s conversation with Bennet, according to government officials, had to do with Iran, with the prime minister stressing the importance of keeping Iran from getting nuclear weapons capability.
One of the central differences between the Obama administration and Jerusalem over this issue is that while Israel talks about preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability – meaning preventing Tehran from getting all the components together they need to build a bomb, if they decide to do so – the US position is that Tehran must simply be kept from building a bomb.
Netanyahu told Bennet that it was important “to draw a line in the sand,” and let Iran understand that there is a price to be paid if they cross that line.
In a related development, French President François Hollande told a conference of French ambassadors in Paris on Tuesday that Iran’s nuclear program was a threat “to all the countries in the region.”
“This is even more unacceptable when we realize that this is the project of a regime that calls directly and continuously for the destruction of Israel – which we have seen recently,” he said, referring to a spate of genocidal calls that came from the Islamic Republic over the last couple of weeks.
Hollande said France’s position was clear: “Iran cannot possess nuclear weapons.” He said, however, that the path of dialogue remained open, but that as long as Iran did not meet the demands of the international community, “France will work to stiffen the sanctions against the regime in Tehran.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hollande said that a solution “is the key to stability in the Middle East.” He said he recommended to Israel that it renew the talks, “since the Palestinians have removed a big part of their pre-conditions.” Hollande did not elaborate.
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