The first half on Iran is excellent, the second half on Palestine is problematic (depending on the meaning of "improved" borders)

November 29, 2013

In Blog

P5+1 can make peace in Israel, too

How can we trust this government’s judgment when it failed to understand that the aim of the talks was not to bring Iran to its knees?

By Zeev Sternhell | Nov. 29, 2013 | 4:51 AM
Ashton and Kerry

The Geneva diplomats celebrate after the agreement was concluded. Photo by AFP

According to Benjamin Netanyahu the recent Geneva accord on Iran is a historic mistake. The reason for this is that it didn’t fulfill the objectives that Israel defined as constituting a good agreement. In other words, the talks in Geneva did not end in Iranian capitulation, but concluded with a compromise.

Indeed, the accepted approach across the world is that talks are supposed to end in some sort of compromise that both sides can live with. Such a compromise does not meet all the demands of one side, but it creates a new mode of coexistence. This is what happened in the negotiations between Iran and the Western powers, but not according to official Israel. As far as it is concerned, the talks should have led to what it cannot achieve on its own through the power of its air force: the complete destruction of Iran’s nuclear potential.

Unfortunately, Barack Obama is not employed here or by Abe Foxman and his Israel lobby cronies at AIPAC. The aim of the talks was not to bring Iran to its knees. How can we trust this government’s judgment when it failed to understand this at the outset?

Netanyahu is convinced, and rightly so, that the Iranians will try to deceive and cheat. He knows this because that’s what he would do in their situation. After all, that is what his government is doing daily in the occupied territories, better than anything else it does. Netanyahu didn’t invent this strategy. Ariel Sharon and other prime ministers preceded him in such actions. The whole settlement enterprise was carried out surreptitiously, using mafia methods and trampling on accepted laws and norms while robbing the local population. For Netanyahu, lies and deception are a foundation of international relations, an expression of political astuteness and of a capacity to get things done.

However, the significance of the negotiations with Iran stretches far beyond what was achieved in Geneva. What was established there was new ways of thinking and doing that could be applied to the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was its most applicable conclusion: A concerted effort by the P5+1 powers can bring both sides to the table and force them to start talking seriously. It will be hard to play games with these nations. The cessation of construction in the territories, the labeling of produce originating there and serious negotiations regarding the future borders of a Palestinian state are now positions accepted by a vast majority of citizens in Western countries.

It is still unclear how many obstacles to the White House’s plans can be placed by Jewish organizations in the United States. Perhaps for the sake of the American Jewish community, this course should not even be put to the test. Thus, if the direct negotiations that John Kerry is masterminding run into a dead end, convening an international conference remains an option. If it turns out that the political process that was embarked on in Geneva is successful, and strict supervision shows that Iran is complying with the agreement and that it was halted in its pursuit of a military nuclear option, the Geneva framework will become the only option in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In that scenario the question will be whether a majority of Israelis is willing to sacrifice the future of this country on the altar of the settlements. It is very likely that at the moment of truth it will turn out that most Israelis do not wish to vanquish the Palestinians, but rather to reach an agreement with them, and that they are ready to end the occupation and the annexation of East Jerusalem, and return to an improved version of the 1967 borders. Reaching a compromise without surrender should be the goal of a Geneva II conference: elections or a referendum on both sides of the Green Line, an end to the Palestinian dream of return, and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state based on the cease-fire lines at the end of the War of Independence.