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As with his rejection of what “everybody understands” about the contours of a deal with the Palestinians, this stance risks driving Israel further into international isolation. But it’s even worse; unlike the Palestinian issue, this issue is not one on which the United States or other Western countries accept that Israel is the key negotiating partner. Unless Israel’s supporters in Congress succeed in upending the whole premise the administration accepts as the basis for these talks — as Israel hopes they will — Netanyahu will simply get left in the dust as the rest of the world moves forward — and quite quickly at that.
Most importantly, Israel’s position will leave it with no way to influence the issues that actually are being discussed by those who are at the table — issues in which it has a crucial interest.
Ironically, this may end up being a case of “be careful what you wish for.” For years, Netanyahu has insisted that the nuclear threat of Iran must be addressed before the world demands that he prioritize negotiating an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, with all the risks that process will entail. Furthermore, he has demanded that any negotiating process set up to address the Iran issue take no more than a few months — six maximum, he said back in 2009, the last time the prospect of such talks emerged, lest Iran just stretch things out while it continues to enrich. And now, that is precisely what both sides seem set to do: Resolve the Iran nuclear issue first, as he remains mired in talks with the Palestinian Authority, and resolve the Iran issue in “months, not years,” as Rowhani put it last week in New York.
Though the Security Council and the IAEA have both demanded that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment, that is not because Iran has no right to do so. To the contrary, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran — but not Israel — is a signatory, guarantees all those who sign it a right to enrich uranium, so long they do so under conditions of international transparency and monitoring that enable others to ensure the enrichment is for peaceful purposes only. Iran’s failure to satisfy those conditions up to now is what has led to the suspension demands. But if Iran can address those demands to the satisfaction of the countries setting out on this new negotiation process, it will be able to reassert its rights under the treaty.