Thursday, February 28, 2013

Faulty connections, futile concessions

Faulty connections, futile concessions

Zalman Shoval

"The formula for an understanding between Obama and Netanyahu is simple," a prominent Jewish-American leader (a Republican, actually) told me during a visit to New York last week: "War and peace," that is to say, an American war against Iran in exchange for Israeli peace with the Palestinians. However, as with many nifty magic formulas, this one too provides nothing more than an optical illusion.

One of the basic assumptions in the aforementioned proposal is that blocking Iran's nuclear program is just an Israeli interest, and that U.S. military action against Iran would essentially be a "favor" to Israel. For its part, Israel would commit to provide a "payment" of concessions to the Palestinians in return for American military action against Iran.

However, the logic and analysis behind this formula is completely devoid of real diplomatic sense: A general attitude of opposition to overseas military action currently prevails in the U.S., so much so that the government would only be moved toward war if Iran's nuclear program was perceived as a threat to the country's vital interests. In Congress, and even in President Barack Obama's new administration, there will be those who will perhaps support military action, but there won't be a shortage of others trying their best to influence the president in the opposite direction.

In other words, it needs to be clear that if Washington remains unconvinced that an atomic bomb in the hands of the ayatollahs isn't a direct threat to the country or its essential interests — even if Israel never builds another house in Jerusalem and gives Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas control over the Western Wall — U.S. bomber aircraft won't be taking off at dawn.

One can hope that during talks between the two leaders in Jerusalem next month they discuss the Iranian threat separately from the other issues (according to the latest reports by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran's nuclear program is accelerating toward the point of no return), and not as part of some "package" that lacks substance.

Not to mention that regardless, the timetables for the various moving parts in this formula aren't synchronized: The challenge of stopping Iran's race toward a nuclear weapon could last months, perhaps weeks, while a solution to the Palestinian problem, in the best-case scenario, could take many long years.

Meanwhile, the other and perhaps most fundamental flaw that characterizes this futile formula is, of course, that the Palestinians haven't given any sign that they intend to abandon their strategy, which primarily calls for avoiding any real negotiations with Israel devoid of preconditions and demands. According to this strategy, they simultaneously continue to engage in maneuvers and distractions in the goal of receiving international recognition without the need to make concessions and compromises themselves, including anything pertaining to recognition of Israel's existence as the home of the Jewish people (on this matter, incidentally, Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni have essentially agreed).

It can be assumed that Netanyahu will indeed present the U.S. president with certain practical proposals on the Palestinians. And he should do so; but we cannot agree, not even conceptually, to the phony link between the Palestinian issue and Iran's nuclear program.

Where should there be a link? Between the disquieting diplomatic and security-related developments in our region — including the increasingly harsh threat from Iran as well as the Palestinian matter — to Netanyahu's efforts, in a short timetable, to assemble as broad a government as possible. One can understand that new politicians, who suddenly feel they are "big-time," get caught up in things that their more experienced, responsible colleagues would never start in the first place, but there's a limit. These folks need to understand that politics isn't merely about tricks and shticks, or about newspaper headlines, but about shouldering the burden of responsibility that the public has charged them with carrying.

We could have expected Habayit Hayehudi to display more stately and responsible behavior, while in the political department store known as Yesh Atid there are still doubts, to my regret. Netanyahu prefers a broad government, and not just because the Likud primary results demand it but because of the difficult challenges Israel is expected to face in the coming years.

But there comes a point in time beyond which a responsible leadership can't further delay the formation of a new government, even if it is less expansive than he would like — and then perhaps the Yesh Atid movement will discover that its future is already behind it.