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Obama seems to think the road to Tehran runs through Jerusalem

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Obama’s emphasis on the peace process and lack of interest in direct negotiations with Iran over nukes suggests he may be squandering an opportunity in the election of Hassan Rouhani. David Bromwich says that Obama seems to think there is a linkage between Palestine progress and solving Iran. Bromwich wrote to me:

Why Obama should believe now (as he did in early 2009) that solving Palestine will solve Iran is a puzzle; but clearly that is his thought. Is the idea that a Palestine agreement will generate such spectacular goodwill that Iran in turn becomes a lighter burden?

Yet those who know the details (e.g. Trita Parsi in A Single Roll of the Dice) say Obama’s retreat from diplomacy with Iran in 2009–which culminated in his flat rejection of the Turkey-Brazil enrichment offer, in May 2010–was a huge lost chance. Probably bigger (and his actions certainly more mystifying) than anything relating to his gradual loss of interest in the settlement freeze.

And now with AIPAC getting Congress to vote more sanctions, Obama is
countering with a very minimal resistance to sanctions (“A senior administration official said on Wednesday the White House is not opposed to new sanctions in principle, but wants to give Rouhani a chance”). Again, why the contrast? He has a better shot at real diplomatic progress with the new president of Iran than he could
have thought possible four years ago. It’s hard to shake the impression
that he simply goes on a slower clock than the world.

As to Bromwich’s description of Obama’s belief in diplomacy with Iran in 2009, here is an excerpt of a post he did for Huffpo when Obama took on Netanyahu at the White House during a press availability in May 2009: 

[W]hen Netanyahu said the Israeli attitude toward Palestine would completely depend on the details of progress toward securing Iran against the acquisition of a single nuclear weapon, Obama replied that his view was almost the reverse. In a leader as averse as Barack Obama to the slightest public hint of personal conflict, this was a critical moment in the exchange; how far, a reporter asked Obama, did he assent to the Netanyahu concept of “linkage” — the idea that first the U.S. must deal with Iran, and a more obliging Israeli approach to Palestine will surely follow. 

Here are Obama’s remarks at that press availability: 

We are engaged in a process to reach out to Iran and persuade them that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon and that they should change course. 

There’s no doubt that it is difficult for any Israeli government to negotiate in a situation in which they feel under immediate threat.  That’s not conducive to negotiations.  And as I’ve said before, I recognize Israel’s legitimate concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon when they have a president who has in the past said that Israel should not exist.  That would give any leader of any country pause.

Having said that, if there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way.  To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians — between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat.

Having said that, I think that dealing with Iran’s potential nuclear capacity is something that we should be doing even if there already was peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  And I think that pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace is something that is in Israeli’s security interests and the United States’ national security interests, even if Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapon.  They’re both important.

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10 Responses

  1. just
    August 5, 2013, 5:10 pm

    Regional hegemony is what we and Israel are working toward.

    We SHOULD normalize relations with Iran, we should be a honest broker for peace and justice.

    We keep failing at both. The road to Tehran runs through Tehran. Jerusalem “belongs” to all of the Abrahamic religions.


  2. Krauss
    August 5, 2013, 5:39 pm

    It’s amusing to see how the theory of linkage has changed, or at least how the uses of it has.

    It has gotten slammed by right-wing Zionists who wish to remove all focus away from Israel, but it was also played up by neocons, saying that a “wave of democracy” in the region would help solve the problem. Of course they were just cynics, it was never about democracy and always about removing Israel’s enemies.

    Now the theory is back. The red thread uniting all these strands is that the I/P cannot be handled on its own, people have to use it as a bargaining chip or a rhetorical device. If they took on the issue on it’s own, they’d have to be confronted by the impossibility of Oslo, which would be heresy.

  3. David Nelson
    David Nelson
    August 5, 2013, 6:24 pm

    The hyped up Iranian nuclear threat has been a diversion all along by the PM of Israel to take American focus off the illegal settlements and the decades long occupation of Palestine by Israel.

    As the President said, it would be difficult for Israel to negotiate when under immediate threat. How convenient then for Netanyahu to keep hyping the so-called Iranian threat. The greater the external threat, the less pressure there is on Israel to make peace with its neighbors.

    So i agree, peace in Palestine is the answer to an agreement with Iran (not to mention it being the answer to many other things in the Middle East). An agreement will be an end to occupation, with an end to occupation Israelis will no longer “need” to divert attention from it.

    • Justpassingby
      August 6, 2013, 3:49 am

      Correct, Israel often refer to a boogeyman (whoever state or group that may be at the moment) when pressured.

  4. mcohen
    August 5, 2013, 7:16 pm

    “Obama seems to think the road to Tehran runs through Jerusalem”

    Obama as Dorothy in the the movie the “the Wizard of Iz” ,about the journey down the black brick road to get help from the wizard to get rid of the wicked witch of the east comes to mind

    Lyrics to We’re Off To See The Wizard :

    We’re off to see the Wizard
    The Wonderful Wizard of Iz
    We hear he is a Whiz of a Wiz
    If ever a Wiz there was
    If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was
    The Wizard of Iz is one because
    Because, because, because, because, because
    Because of the wonderful things he does
    We’re off to see the wizard
    The Wonderful Wizard of Iz!

  5. Eva Smagacz
    Eva Smagacz
    August 5, 2013, 10:44 pm

    I’m for one in total agreement with Obama on this one. I believe that entire Iran kerfuffle is nothing more than a giant squid ink cloud to keep the world’s attention away from colonization of Palestine.

    When the borders will be fixed, the Iran will become much less of the monster, because there will be reduced need for distracting the world. Finally, the Iran-the monster combo, seems to be peculiarly Netanyahu’s own idee-fixe.

    • Citizen
      August 6, 2013, 9:50 am

      @ Eva Smagacz

      I don’t disagree with your squid ink tactic to draw attention away from Israel’s expanding colonization, but a second reason is Netanyahu does not want Iran to get the bomb, not because a nuclear Iran would be a real threat, given Israel & US stockpiles of nukes, and its pattern of not initiating wars, but simply merely having even one bomb would detract from Israel’s hegemony in the Middle East.

    • Tuyzentfloot
      August 6, 2013, 5:14 pm

      I’m for one in total agreement with Obama on this one. I believe that entire Iran kerfuffle is nothing more than a giant squid ink cloud to keep the world’s attention away from colonization of Palestine.

      Rabin also believed there was a connexion between the two issues, but one was not a distraction for the other. Rather, Calming down the Palestinian front with Oslo ment calming down the relations with its direct neighbors, and this allowed him take on Iran which had surfaced as a new regional competitor after the demise of the USSR and (sort of demise of)Iraq.

  6. Walid
    August 6, 2013, 3:42 am

    Is the vise being tightened around Iran for the benefit of Israel and friend or Saudi Arabia and friends?

    Palestine has nothing to do with what Iran is up to or not up to with its nuclear program. Iran as well as Hizbullah have already stated that they would go along with whatever final deal the Palestinians would accept.

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