Tenth Annual Saban Forum Reveals Clear Fault Lines Between Israel and U.S.

Peace Talks and Iran at The Center of Debate

Getty Images

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 10, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

A former top Israeli political figure, stepping out of the room after Netanyahu’s speech, called the attempt to focus on Palestinian recognition “a mere distraction.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, the former official pulled out his smartphone and brought up a Youtube video showing the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat stating in 1974 that he will recognize a Jewish state. “You see, and this was Arafat who said it, so what does Bibi want now?” the former official asked.

Kerry remained optimistic. While scaling down hopes from a full agreement to a “framework” for a gradual permanent solution, he forcefully tried to convince Israelis a deal with the Palestinians is their best chance. “Force cannot defeat or defuse the demographic time bomb,” he said, referring to birthrate trends that portend a Palestinian majority in the Israel and the West Bank, if one does not already exist.

“People are skeptical, but there seems to be some hint that he knows something we don’t know,” said Robert Danin, a former peace negotiator now with the Council on Foreign Relations. “We hope that’s the case.”

Meanwhile, the two sides’ differences on Iran were, if anything, even clearer.

President Obama, openly, and at times bluntly, took issue with each and every Israeli objection to the way discussions with Iran are being held and with Israel’s opposition to the interim agreement his administration recently reached with Iran on the Islamic Republic’s contested nuclear development program. Both Israel and the U.S. say they seek to prevent the prospect that Iran’s program could allow it to develop nuclear weapons, as many observers believe Iran aims to do, despite its denials. But the differences in tactics were sharp.

Obama rejected Israel’s demand that sanctions be increased while negotiations for a final agreement are taking place. The idea that Iran would cave in if sanctions were ratcheted up, he said, “does not reflect an honest understanding of the Iranian people or the Iranian regime.”

The president also flatly rejected Israel’s demand that Iran, under a final agreement, should completely give up all uranium enrichment, describing it as an unrealistic expectation.

“One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, ‘we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone,’” he said. “I can also envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward.” The audience, or at least the Americans in the crowd, responded with laughter. “I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful,” he said.

Obama went on to state that the United States could accept low-level enrichment under strict limitations and monitoring, as part of a final agreement.

“I hope the people of Israel had an opportunity to listen, to think, and to understand our rationale and our goals, because at the end of the day we have the same goal which is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” said Ambassador Shapiro after Obama’s speech.

But Israeli officials were not moved. They maintained that their government’s firm rejection of the interim agreement with Iran and its tough stance on a final deal were paying off. “It is strengthening America’s hand,” said Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz added: “We cannot remain silent and hide disagreements when it comes to our existence.”

Saban, the conference’s host and a major donor to Obama’s Democratic Party, told Israeli TV that bringing the president to speak to an Israeli audience was his personal highlight. “It is very important for the relationship to have the president speak to the Israelis,” Saban said. “And for me, bringing the American president closer to the people of Israel is a life goal.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, a columnist for The Atlantic who participated in the forum discussions, marveled at Saban’s ability to draw the stellar retinue of top leaders from the two sides to his conference: “Everybody wants to be the king of the Jews, but I think he might be the king of the Jews,” Goldberg said. “When he picks up the phone people answer and they do him favors.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.