Savir's Corner: P5+1 for the Middle East

The Obama-Kerry administration understands too well the shortcomings in the use of power, based on recent frustrating experiences.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Israel (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Israel
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A furious debate has erupted between Israel and the United States in relation to the US administration’s positions on Iran and on the Palestinian issue – a divergence of views that threatens to undermine the necessary mutual trust between the leaderships in Washington and Jerusalem, and with it the all-too-necessary policy coordination between the two countries.
The harsh attack of our prime minister against John Kerry at the conclusion of his last visit and the secretary of state’s rebuttal in the media and in Congress do not just reflect friction within the family or traditional political bravado for the sake of domestic audiences. The rift is a function of a very real abyss between the governments as to their respective views on the Middle East and as how to deal with the different threats and crises at hand.
Barack Obama lives in a new world, Binyamin Netanyahu in yesterday’s world.
The Obama-Kerry administration understands too well the shortcomings in the use of power, based on recent frustrating experiences.
They believe in a greater equality between nations, in a dialogue of mutual respect, and do not delude themselves that change can be dictated; diplomatic power is the new agent of change and deterrence; it grows within new structures of collective diplomacy, led by Washington.
That was the case in Syria, which is now being disarmed of chemical weapons, not due to an American military strike, but because of American-Russian diplomatic cooperation. Barack Obama was wise to give Vladimir Putin a leading role in the resolution of the crisis and was ready to absorb criticism for not being the macho world sheriff that many conservatives would like him or America to be. Here too, Israel was offside, as the only country lobbying Congress in favor of a military strike. If listened to, Syria would have maintained it’s chemical arsenal.
As the Security Council has been paralyzed due to the veto, a new international structure has evolved for conflict resolution: the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany (P5+1).
They are acting in relative coordination to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear military power. Their interests and power assets are diverse, yet all of them have a stake in curbing the possibility of a regional conflict becoming global. Today this is the forum to prevent World War III, and is, in many ways, the real security council.
The P5+1 also have an interest in keeping a good degree of coordination between them, as their economic interests are to a large degree interconnected. When the Iranian foreign minister is meeting with the six foreign ministers around the same table in the Geneva Intercontinental Hotel, he meets with the international community as a whole. His ability to divide and conquer has been reduced; he is dependent on all when it comes to a significant lifting of sanctions.
In this forum the American administration aims to reach an agreement with Iran that will completely neutralize the ability of the Tehran regime to develop nuclear military capability. It knows that the Iranian regime of Ali Khamenei and Hassan Rouhani is under pressure from the street to make concessions on the nuclear program in favor of lifting the economic sanctions which have crippled the Iranian economy.
Obama and Kerry would like to sustain the relative pragmatism of the Iranians with an interim agreement that would freeze the nuclear program for the duration of negotiations in return for a very partial and reversible lifting of sanctions.
The US administration understands that in today’s world no deal is possible or will last if it does not respect the prestige of the other side and strengthen the more pragmatic elements within it.
A perfect agreement is overkill and may end up in no deal at all. The Iranians have an alternative to an agreement – no agreement – and a constant brainwashing of their public opinion; an Islamic North Korea.
The US must, and will, for the sake of the full deal with Iran, insist on all measures that prevent Iran from developing nuclear arms and it should take very determined positions on all core issues. At the same time it must be a carrot and a stick approach, opening the way to a historic agreement.
This is the best strategy for success, shared in large part by all other partners.
It’s also the only strategy of toughness and flexibility that will hold the coalition of six together.
Netanyahu and his chums in the Republican Tea Party not only object to, but also do not begin to understand the new rules of the game of international relations.
Netanyahu truly believes that the United States needs only to decide to increase the level of sanctions and threaten military action agaist Iran in order for the Iranian leadership to hoist a white flag – the Iranians should be defeated at the negotiation table nor the battlefield, not comprehending that defeat is both impossible and counterproductive. A defeated and humiliated Iran would have every incentive to develop nuclear weapons as the capacity exists, the motivation to use it must be altered. We don’t need another Versailles Treaty in the Middle East.
This is also the prime minister’s view on the Palestinian issue, to defeat the Palestinians, if not through the IDF, then at the negotiation table.
International agreements must take into consideration the motivation of all sides to sustain the agreements. More importantly, agreements in today’s world must have popular support. One-sided agreements will create resistance and will not survive. Virtually every country today has interests in peaceful arrangements because its economic future depends on it. Every country is also sensitive to its prestige and will not accept dictates.
Bridges between agreements that, on one side, disarm and pacify countries and regions, and, on the other, link to the fruits and assets of the global economy, are possible as part of collective diplomacy. Given the economic power of the European Union, and also China after its recent gradual privatization reforms, and the political and security leaderships of the United States and Russia, the permanent members plus Germany could very well become the framework in which peace and disarmament agreements can be reached. It can become a win-win situation for the six partners.
This framework could very well become useful for a broader deal in the Middle Eastern region. Such a regional arrangement would begin with Syria, continue with Iran, and conclude with Israel and Palestine.
Many Israelis may see in this a dangerous scenario. It must not be, as we have to adapt to a new world of collective diplomacy.
On an Israeli-Palestinian deal, the P5+1 must include the rest of the region. In return for a 1967-lines based border, with mutual land swaps, and the sharing of Jerusalem as two capitals, Israel must demand recognition by the entire Arab world, including full diplomatic relations and regional cooperation. We must, and will, put an end to occupation. The Arab states must, and will, put an end to the rejection of Israel. Within such a regional framework agreement, Israel and its neighbors must insist on full assistance and cooperation by the international community, in the form of P5+1.
The Americans can give us all necessary security support, not just of a tactical nature along the Jordan River, but also of strategic significance.
The Europeans can give the Palestinians the necessary economic and institutionbuilding support and allow Israel to have the desired regional economic cooperation that will make peace sustainable.
Russia and China, which have their own global and regional aspirations in a peace deal, could exert their influence on the extremists to halt terrorism and the development of non-conventional weapons, as Russia did with Syria.
We may not be far away from a moment in 2014 in which Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas will be invited to the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva.The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.