Israel suffered a searing diplomatic defeat at the five-year review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that ended last weekend. The treaty's 189 member states, including the United States, urged Israel to sign the NPT, which would mean ending its policy of ambiguity and dismantling its alleged nuclear capability. The conference also decided to promote the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, and to convene a regional conference on this issue in 2012.
The U.S. administration tried to mitigate the damage to Israel, and President Barack Obama restated his commitment to its security. This issue will be discussed tomorrow at his White House meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel will not hasten to alter its nuclear policy, and one should not expect foreign inspectors to visit the Dimona nuclear reactor anytime in the foreseeable future.
But the lameness of the review conference's decision in practice, and even the consoling messages from Washington, do nothing to obscure the main problem: Israel has once again found itself isolated against the entire international community. The prime minister's response - to declare that Israel will not help implement the decision - only painted it as rejectionist in the face of a global consensus. Even if Israel has no formal obligation to honor the decisions of a group to which it does not belong, its diplomatic isolation is only worsened by saying no to international decisions.
We must not ignore Obama's message: While expressing reservations about isolating Israel, the White House also made clear that it is adhering to long-standing American policy on the peace process. Or in less diplomatic language, Israel's stubbornness on the Palestinian issue is liable to carry a price in other areas of strategic importance. Those who want to control the territories for all eternity and expand the settlements are liable to undermine Dimona. Indeed, Israel itself is the one that created the link between nuclear capability and peace when it declared years ago that nuclear disarmament in the Middle East would be possible only once a comprehensive peace had been achieved.
At his meeting with Obama tomorrow, Netanyahu will have an opportunity to repair Israel's relationship with its most important, and indeed only, ally. He must not waste it in yet another attempt to buy time and stymie the justified demand for an end to the occupation. For Israel to break out of its growing international isolation, Netanyahu must say yes, without reservations, to the peace process that Obama seeks to advance.
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