Obama’s Package Deal: Nuke-free Iran for Palestinian State

If Washington does manage to roll back Iran’s nuclear program, Israel will have to do its part by ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, United States President Barack Obama presented his two key Middle East goals for the coming year – solving the Iranian nuclear crisis and reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. “While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace,” he said.

Obama not only placed the Iranian and Palestinian issues at the top of America’s regional agenda, he also connected them. His message, which was aimed primarily at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was that solving the former is linked to solving the latter.

This is the package deal Obama has been seeking since taking office in early-2009. He will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability and, in exchange, Netanyahu will establish a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has never been a big fan of this package deal, but he can nevertheless take some comfort from Obama’s speech. Four years ago, Obama and his staff said that establishing a Palestinian state would facilitate solving the Iranian nuclear problem. Netanyahu objected vehemently, saying the opposite was true: Without ending the Iranian nuclear threat, there would never be peace.

In yesterday’s speech, Obama seemed to have moved closer to Netanyahu’s position. He still doesn’t think the Palestinian issue should be frozen until Iran’s centrifuges are dismantled, but he has grasped that unless Iran’s nuclear program is halted, Netanyahu won’t concede a millimeter of the West Bank.

Yet the flip side of the message was still there: If Washington does manage to roll back Iran’s nuclear program, either through diplomacy or military action, Israel will have to do its part by ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.

Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security and urged the Arabs to recognize it as a Jewish state. But two sentences in his speech infuriated right-wing cabinet ministers: “I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state ... Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depend[s] on the realization of a Palestinian state.”

The ministers who denounced that assertion should point their fingers, first and foremost, at the prime minister under whom they serve. After all, Netanyahu is the one who has said repeatedly in recent months that Israel must be prevented from becoming a binational state.

Obama’s speech also included several rhetorical gestures toward Iran. He praised its new president, Hassan Rohani, empathetically recalled the Iranians killed by chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war, refrained from threats such as “all options are on the table” and said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would pursue negotiations with Tehran.

But he also stressed that the burden of proof is on Iran and that fine words won’t suffice. Moreover, he warned that America “is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force,” to prevent the development of nuclear weapons. He thereby showed that Netanyahu’s fears of America swooning at Rohani’s feet were based on nothing but paranoia.

Abbas with Obama on the sidelines of the UNGA. Credit: Reuters

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