Washington watch: Netanyahu’s Iranian excuse

Netanyahu’s penchant for playing divisive, partisan politics has brought Israeli-US relations to a new low.

Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu
I don’t question the sincerity of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s doubts about the Iran nuclear deal, but that only explains half of his opposition to what most world leaders are calling a historic achievement.
At least as important to him is a matter unrelated to the potential nuclear threat. It is the Palestinians. All signs point to the likelihood Netanyahu will use the Iran debate to harden his government’s opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state, something that will erode still further relations with the Obama administration, increase Israel’s international isolation and boost the Palestinian campaign to use the United Nations to win at least the international imprimatur of statehood.
For years he has insisted that a peace deal with the Palestinians and statehood would not be possible as long as the Iranian nuclear sword hung over the region and the ayatollahs in Tehran were calling for Israel’s destruction and financing and arming the terrorists on the front line.
He speaks repeatedly of a possible radical Islamic takeover of the West Bank, turning a Palestinian state into an Iranian outpost, as he sees Gaza today under Hamas. Reconciliation between the Islamist Hamas and the secular Fatah, which controls the West Bank, is all the evidence he seems to think he needs. He conveniently ignores the fact that strong security guarantees are the first requirement for any Israeli leader signing a peace agreement.
In a 2009 White House press availability with President Barack Obama a reporter noted that Netanyahu and his government said that only when the Iranian threat is solved could there be real progress on the Palestinian track.
Netanyahu initially denied any “policy linkage” but went on to say, “If Iran went nuclear, it would threaten the progress toward peace and destabilize the entire area and threaten existing peace agreements.”
In other words, first remove the Iranian nuclear threat – something Netanyahu insists is only exacerbated by the Vienna agreement.
In a 2013 interview with The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth he said a Palestinian state is potentially “another Iranian client-state... committed to our destruction.”
Last year he told Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg “we don’t want an Iranian proxy in territories we vacate... we don’t want a Palestinian-Iranian state next door.”
Again earlier this year in the closing days of his election campaign he vowed there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. He tried to backtrack on that but Obama and other world leaders weren’t buying.
His entire campaign against the nuclear agreement – notwithstanding its support from the Israeli defense and intelligence community – is that it only increases the existential Iranian threat; the unspoken subtext is that peace with the Palestinians, something he has been internationally condemned for eschewing, is out of the question.
The Palestinian leadership is biding its time for the end of the congressional debate, which they know will only exacerbate Israel’s international isolation, to renew its diplomatic offensive on statehood at the United Nations and is looking to the EU, particularly the French, to lead the charge. Netanyahu has fewer and fewer friends in the European capitals, where leaders blame him for the lack of progress.
So do many Jews. A report by the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) found support for Israel among Diaspora Jewry is eroding because of “doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians,” according to the study’s author, Shmuel Rosner. Nearly three in five Jews believe the Netanyahu government is not making a sincere effort to negotiate peace with the Palestinians.
Uri Savir, a longtime leader of the Israeli peace camp, wrote in Al-Monitor quoting an unnamed “senior source” close to Netanyahu saying, “The prime minister will demand that the US administration, both the White House and the State Department, help him brush the Palestinian issue under the carpet. Netanyahu will argue that he will not engage in a process that, according to him, risks ending up in a pro-Iranian enclave in the West Bank.”
If Netanyahu blocks renewal of negotiations by setting conditions he knows Abbas will reject or just by accelerating settlement construction, the French are reportedly prepared to press a Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood and setting a deadline to complete negotiations and end the occupation.
Netanyahu expects Obama to veto such a resolution because of its potential impact on the 2016 American elections. Republicans, boasting of unanimous opposition to Obama’s Iran deal and with money from wealthy Jewish backers like Sheldon Adelson and Netanyahu’s backing, will be painting Democrats as anti-Israel.
Netanyahu is getting help from the Iranians. As long as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his minions swear enmity toward the “arrogant American government,” call for the destruction of Israel, tell crowds chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” they hope Allah will answer their prayers, deny the Holocaust and fund terrorists like Hezbollah, Netanyahu will use them as his excuse to stay away from the peace table.
(They’re also the best fundraisers AIPAC has.) With the 2016 election campaigns already underway, Netanyahu is confident he can stonewall Obama on peace for the remainder of his term. He knows the Republicans are no more interested than he is in the peace process and are content to devote their energy to Obama bashing.
Netanyahu’s penchant for playing divisive, partisan politics has brought Israeli-US relations to a new low.
Along the way he has undermined bipartisan congressional support for Israel by alienating Democrats and left a deeply divided Jewish community drifting away from Israel. Netanyahu needs to take the JPPI report very seriously. The problems it points out are potentially far greater than any Iranian bomb.
Netanyahu says he supports the two-state solution and is ready to return to the peace table, but he hasn’t even asked his own Likud Party much less his rightwing government to endorse the two-state solution.
And now, with his customary shortsightedness, he will use the Iran agreement as one more excuse to fend off serious peace talks.