PM takes 'pragmatic' tone on Iran with Jewish congressmen

New York representative Engel: Netanyahu won't make concessions on two-state solution.

Netanyahu Obama white house 248.88 (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
Netanyahu Obama white house 248.88
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stayed on message in a meeting with Jewish members of Congress this week, striking a pragmatic tone in expressing the need to address the threat posed by Iran. "I don't think there are any gaps in terms of the overall goal and objective, which is to thwart the Iranian nuclear program and to jump-start a process of negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians," said Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida, who attended the meeting on Tuesday morning. "It is time, quite frankly, that we test Saudi Arabia and the broader Arab world to see if they are serious about taking those steps toward normalizing their relations with Israel," he added. "This is not designed to be a process where Israel takes steps toward peace based on the good faith of other parties." According to Rep. Ron Klein, also a Florida Democrat, the prime minister's tone was "serious but pragmatic." "He talked specifically about Iran to our group, about the things the United States can and should be considering," Klein said. In particular, the prime minister supported economic sanctions against Iran, stressing that only tough sanctions would have an impact. But any partnership between the United States and Israel will have to factor in certain differences in policy, including Israel's policy toward settlement blocs. "Netanyahu seemed flexible, but he's not giving anything away," said Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York. "I think he knows that ultimately those settler outposts can't remain in Israeli hands." US lawmakers have also stressed a two-state solution. In a letter sent to President Barack Obama, 76 senators urged him to support Israel and "take into account the risks it will face in any peace agreement," AFP reported. "Members of Congress and President Obama believe in a two-state solution under all the conditions that the Israeli government believes is appropriate," Klein said. "The prime minister has not used the word 'state' in recent speeches." Engel said his impression was that Netanyahu was "not going to make concessions." "My read of it is, he's not going to say 'two-state solution,' because he views that as a concession. Of course he understands that a two-state solution is the way for peace. But also, and he made this point… the ultimate endgame, in terms of peace negotiations, is to have a Palestinian Arab state, but also an Israeli Jewish state." Wexler observed that the leaders had different styles that would complement each other. "President Obama, for instance, has a degree of popularity and credibility with the Arab world that no American president has ever achieved," and this could, in turn, create a dynamic in which Gulf states begin a substantive process of normalizing relations with Israel, Wexler said. "Likewise, Prime Minister Netanyahu, as a somewhat hawkish leader, brings to this equation a degree of credibility on security issues and military matters that gives further credibility to President Obama's policy of engagement with Iran," Wexler said.