Now with Israel’s Prime Minister seemingly convinced that it is not the time to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, what next for Benjamin Netanyahu and what future — if any— for the Palestinian peace talks with the Israelis? A huge question that no one in the region and beyond dares to ask. It was clearly expected, right from the moment of signing the US-Iran rapprochement two weeks ago in Geneva, that some importunate Palestinian voices will begin to rise over the peace talks.
A member of Fatah Central Committee and a former negotiator in the talks with Israel has recently posed such a question. Writing in Israel’s leading paper Ha’aretz, Dr Mohammad Shtayyeh, who is also a minister in charge of Palestinian Economic Council for Development, asked for a multilateral framework for peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Assuming “success” in the Geneva talks over the Iran issue and “the possibility of success” in the Syrian conflict, Dr Shtayyeh wondered: “Why is there no talk about a Geneva-Palestine discussion?”
An excellent and timely salvo by the former Palestinian negotiator, but is Israel’s prime minister listening? It is doubtful, at least for the time being. With the entire world, including the European Union, Russia, China, the Union of South American Nations and the Brics countries still in full support of the Oslo Accord signed almost 20 years ago, it is unconceivable – one would assume — that Netanyahu can resist the pressure. Of course one cannot exaggerate the US readiness to abandon Israel now or in the near future, as the Jewish state will continue to enjoy the support of American might through the solid Israeli lobby’s Congress majority.
But it is also significant to note what other Israeli politicians say about the issue and how Israel’s public opinion is being swayed by various Israeli leaders. The new chief of Israel’s opposition, Isaac Herzog, elected as leader of Labour Party last month, forcefully rejected Netanyahu’s interpretation of the US-Iran rapprochement and accused him of “war-mongering. Cleverly avoiding challenging Netanyahu’s stance on the Iranian issue, Herzog accused the prime minister of “creating unnecessary panic”. Netanyahu went as far as comparing Iran’s nuclear programme to the rise of Nazism in 1930s in Europe and warned of similar failure.
But, simultaneously and in view of the increasing international isolation of the Israeli prime minister’s position on the Iranian nuclear issue, he seems to be gradually headed to a situation where he would appear “alone against the world”, according to a highly-placed British diplomat. Apart from, understandably, a few worried Arab politicians in the Gulf region, many others see the US-Iran rapprochement, if carefully and successfully administered to reach its desired potential, to possibly lead to the sorting out of many issues in the Middle East, including Palestinian-Israeli peace as well as limiting the currently adventurist Hezbollah’s regional policy to its Lebanese arena.
It is right for the Gulf Arabs to feel insecure as a result of the rapprochement, but it is also vital that “they should read this [the rapprochement] as an opportunity rather than a threat”, the diplomat told me. With this in mind, one can understand the hurriedly arranged phone call the US president made to Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz half an hour after signing the rapprochement. Barack Obama reiterated the firm commitment of the US to its friends and allies in the Gulf region. However, the Saudis and some other Gulf Arabs were unable to hide their anger, particularly after it became known that the Americans had been conducting secret meetings with the Iranians in Oman for almost two months prior to the agreement.
However, despite Obama’s reassuring call, few angry Arab writers in the Gulf press were allowed to make their voices heard by accusing the Americans of “selling us cheaply” and of “abandoning” the Arab allies etc. But eventually reality and interests always dictate the nature of relations between countries and, therefore, politicians have to listen to reason and wisdom. It is largely understood now that the US military might is suffering from a deep and wide war fatigue, as well as a highly dangerous chronic economic threat. This, of course, would undoubtedly lead to a reversal of its many foreign policies and force the necessary shift from the Middle East to East Asia, as the current situation is evidently shaping up.
The angry Arabs should understand that Netanyahu’s hands are tied and he is unable to hinder current US policy towards Iran. In addition to Obama’s phone call, the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague made another call and the senior French diplomat, Jacques Audibert was hurriedly despatched to occupied Jerusalem. The message to Netanyahu was made universally clear: Play with us, not against us.
Mustapha Karkouti is a former president of the Foreign Press Association, London.