Iran’s President, Mr. Hassan Rouhani, and its Foreign Minister, Mr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, are making many efforts to change their regime’s image. They are trying to portray their country as a peaceful state, which is being treated unjustly by the world, and which has no intention to develop nuclear weapons, neither now, nor in 15 years from now.
I would like suggest a test of Iran’s seriousness in its new charm offensive: Iran should declare its commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative (API) of 2002, including its readiness to pay its part to implement it. The initiative, which was a big surprise at the time, assured the world of the Arab states’ readiness to make peace with Israel and to normalize relations. This assurance came on the condition that Israel makes peace with the Palestinians and Syria based on the 1967 borders (the pre-1967 war lines). Israel, under Ariel Sharon’s leadership, dismissed the initiative, but the OIC (the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, with the membership of 57 countries) adopted the interesting offer.
Theoretically, it should not be too difficult for Iran to issue a statement in support of the Arab Initiative because of the Islamic consensual support for the API. And practically, an Iranian declaration referring conditionally to a recognition of Israel would be a revolution not only vis a vis Israel. Among other things, it would immediately distance Iran from organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, which denounce the mere existence of the Jewish State unconditionally.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has portrayed Iran as the biggest threat to Israel. He tried (wrongly, in my view) to convince the Obama administration not to sign the JCPA agreement with Iran, and he is trying to convince Mr. Trump to withdraw from it. But if Iran recognized Israel, it would not only mend fences between Israel and Iran, but may help assure the sustainability of the international nuclear agreement with Iran.
Still, it cannot be just an Iranian declaration. In order to convince Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights, Iran would have to assure the evacuation of its forces, including its proxies, from Syria. On the Israeli side, one should remember that not only late Prime Minister Rabin promised the Clinton administration to withdraw totally from the Golan Heights if the Israeli security needs are met, but also Netanyahu himself was involved in negotiations on this front, though no agreement was reached.
Since Iran hasn’t excluded itself from the Islamic nations’ decision to support the Arab Peace Initiative, and since Netanyahu committed himself (openly) to the two-state solution, and (secretly) to a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, it is quite feasible for Iran to break the deadlock in the Middle East and to play a very positive role for its own interest.
So, what has to happen? The Trump team (led by the President’s son in law, Jared Kushner, and by his former lawyer, Jason Dov Greenblatt) should stop shuttling between Ramallah and Jerusalem, trying to convince the parties to take “confidence building measures.” Rather, the Administration should turn towards a regional deal by including the Palestinians in what Mr. Trump likes so much to call “a deal.”
China should be approached by the U.S. in order to check with Iran its readiness to get involved, to pay the ticket to the game and to declare its support for the Arab Initiative. A Chinese involvement can be helpful as a possible precedent to its more significant involvement with Iran.
The U.S. (as the head of the Quartet on the Middle East, in which also the UN, the EU and Russia are members) should negotiate Israel’s intended reaction to Iran’s official declaration. A clear declaration by the Iranian side, and a positive Israeli reaction may have a consequential impact on regional organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. It should bring Israel and the PLO immediately to the negotiating table, and parallel to it, Israel and Syria should renew their talks, which stopped in 2000. Israel’s neutrality in the long war in Syria may make it easier to negotiate peace in 2017, knowing that now, unlike what happened seventeen years ago, peace with our immediate neighbors will mean peace with Iran and with the whole Islamic world, including all the Arab states.
This plan would to confront Netanyahu with the toughest dilemma in his entire political career.
Dr. Yossi Beilin is a former Israeli minister of Justice. He initiated the Oslo Agreement of 1993, the informal “Beilin-Abu Mazen Understandings” of 1995, the informal “Geneva Initiative” of 2003 and the “Taglit- Birthright” project.