Give peace a chance and time

The Washington, DC visit by Benjamin Netanyahu and his speech before Congress should not hamper the Geneva negotiations with Iran. To the contrary, the parties to the talks and all vested interests should give the peace talks a chance and more time to succeed.

Israel’s Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke today in Washington, DC before a joint session of Congress.
The ceremony was neither the first time, nor the last. It is, indeed, bound to happen again in the foreseeable future. The previous one occurred in 2011.

The Speaker of the House’s invitation to the Prime minister failed to consult with the White House. Also, it ignored the Obama Administration’s objection to the initiative. Consequently, the U.S. president will not receive Mr. Netanyahu. And the Vice President, Joe Biden, will be on official visit out of town. In addition to the lack of consultation with him, President Barack Obama decided not to even give the appearance of choosing sides in the upcoming legislative election by hosting Mr. Netanyahu, who faces competition at home on March 17.

The stake

However, at the core of the disagreement between the U.S. and its long-time ally and protégé, is Mr. Netanyahu’s adamant opposition to any concession to Iran in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Tehran. In contrast, although he rejects any possibility for Iran to  build atomic weapons, Obama has opted for some flexibility. Thus, he acknowledges the need for the Islamic Republic to use the technology for power generation and other civilian programs.

Simultaneously, the U.S. government and its European allies have applied economic sanctions against Tehran. And the measures have considerably impacted Iran’s economy, some say even crippling it. As a result,  in 2013 —and with the blessing of the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—, the Islamic Republic elected President Hassan Rouhani, a dovish politician. But, led by former president Mahmoud Ahmedinadjad, the hawkish side in Iran still actively disapprove of the Geneva talks.

Today’s speech by the Prime minister’s has ruffled more feathers between America and Israel. Also, on the eve of his departure for Washington, Mr. Netanyahu’s trip had triggered internal frictions, both in Washington and in Tel-Aviv.

Congressional Democrats boycott, American Jews and Israelis divergences

In Washington, the Congressional Black Caucus and many Democrats in both chambers of Congress will boycott the speech session in solidarity with the White House. And the Jewish-American community is split between partisans and opponents of the Israeli leader appearance before the joint session.

In Tel-Aviv, a New York Times article titled “Speech by Netanyahu Opens Political Divisions in Israel, Too” (March, 1st) covered substantively the opposition to Mr. Netanyahu’s trip and speech. The disapproval range from the Prime minister’s own Likud party to his liberal and left wing adversaries.

The New York Times reporter writes:

« That popular criticism has now been bolstered by prominent voices from Israel’s security establishment. A group of nearly 200 former military and intelligence officials called on Mr. Netanyahu to cancel the speech, an unusually public challenge. At a news conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday, several of the former officers and officials warned that Mr. Netanyahu’s policies were endangering the strategic alliance with the United States and were actually bringing Iran closer to a nuclear bomb.
“It is hard for me to come out against Bibi,” said Amiram Levine, a retired general, referring to Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname. Noting that he had recruited Mr. Netanyahu into the elite Sayeret Matkal unit and was his commander there, Mr. Levine said, “I taught Bibi navigation, how to get to the goal, and this time I regret that I have to say, ‘Bibi, you made a mistake in navigation, the goal is in Tehran, not in Washington.’ ”
Meir Dagan, the former chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, has described Mr. Netanyahu as “the person who has caused the greatest strategic damage to Israel on the Iranian issue.”
In an interview published in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper this weekend, Mr. Dagan, who has been critical of Israel’s leaders before, said Mr. Netanyahu’s conduct was likely to motivate the American administration to hurry to reach a deal with Iran. “How would Obama explain not reaching a deal?” Mr. Dagan said. “That Netanyahu persuaded him? Or the Republicans?” »

Beyond the much publicized US-Israel clash of opinion, one must bear in mind that the negotiations themselves are multilateral and that they are supported by the United Nations. Officially they are called the “Comprehensive agreement on Iranian nuclear program”. And the members of the so-called P5+1 group are: the United states, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany, plus Iran.

Bibi and Barack: an odd pair of allies

Mr. Netanyahu’s aggressive discourse project the image of a war-prone leader. In contrast, Barack Obama does not hide the war-averse side of his personality and policies. Given such an odd contrast, it’s a good thing that both the two heads of governments lead democratic societies, where citizens enjoy the freedom of opinion, assembly and speech.

“Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”

It is likely that the current raw between Washington and Tel-Aviv will fade away soon. However, whether the Geneva negotiations succeed or not, the international community ought to entrust the empowering motto “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” It energized Black Americans during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s-1960s. They believed in it and sung. And they ultimately won their rights.

Likewise, the Israel-Palestine conflict must summon the same will to achieve peace through the “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine” of the United Nations, aka, the two-state resolution of 1974 as amended.

Nuclear weapons are more deterrent tools than a usable means. They constitute a zero-sum gain for the states for who possess them as well as those who don’t. The US exploded them twice in Japan in 1945. Ever since they have not been detonated. And they are unlikely to be used again for fear of triggering the end of life on this planet. Albert Einstein was one of the most prominent and revered inventors of nuclear technology. Yet, he subsequently articulated the threat posed by such terrible weapons. He co-signed the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which calls on states to resolve conflicts peacefully through negotiations.

Again, the Israel-Palestine predates the Iran nuclear issue. Today more than yesterday, it should retain the priority it deserves. Because peace in the Middle East, in neighboring Africa and beyond, hinges partly on ending the confrontation between Arabs and Jews. The two peoples are Semites, i.e. branches of the same tree.
Better yet, they are the “children of Abraham, the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael” as President Bill Clinton stated at the “Signing Ceremony for the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles”, September 13, 1993.

Tierno S. Bah