J Street Responds: Don't Undermine Chance for 'Good Deal' on Iran

Alan Dershowitz is wrong: The only way to ensure Iran doesn't go nuclear is the verifiable, negotiated settlement that the U.S. administration is seeking.

Dylan Williams
Dylan Williams
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Dylan Williams
Dylan Williams

Alan Dershowitz writes in Haaretz that anyone who supports the U.S. government efforts to freeze Iran's nuclear program as a first step in ongoing negotiations is backing the kind of diplomacy adopted by Neville Chamberlain, when he tried to sweet talk Hitler in 1938 and emerged with a worthless piece of paper.

Dershowitz’s targets include President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, the bulk of the American security and arms control establishment, and last but not least, J Street, which has been a regular target for Dershowitz since its inception five years ago.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, his piece on negotiations with Iran is full of straw-man fallacies and factual errors.

To his credit, Dershowitz begins his argument with a solid premise: All of us—the U.S., its allies and the entire pro-Israel community—share the goal of ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.

From there, however, his argument departs from reality. Dershowitz accuses the Obama Administration and its mainstream backers of being immediately willing to grant Iran significant sanctions relief in exchange for nothing more than minor promises which would not affect Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon.

That would indeed be a bad deal—but neither the U.S. administration nor the supporters of its effort are arguing for it. As United States negotiators have made clear, and as J Street has advocated, any potential economic relief for Iran should be limited, reversible and come only after real and verifiable initial concessions by Iran on the most concerning aspects of its nuclear program.

No one inside, or supporting the administration, is arguing to reduce sanctions in exchange for a mere change in direction of the negotiations. Yet, Dershowitz is eager to line up with those arguing to increase sanctions to spite such progress.

There should be no mistake: Legislating new sanctions at this time would undermine President Rohani's standing and leeway vis-a-vis hardliners in Iran. It could also fracture the united multilateral front by imposing new penalties on some of our most important partners in this effort, particularly China and Russia. There are two alternatives to a negotiated agreement that verifiably make sure Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons: A nuclear-armed Iran and war—which many American and Israeli security experts believe will also ultimately result in a nuclear-armed Iran.

It is therefore irresponsible for Dershowitz to advocate throwing a spanner in the works of diplomacy, which provides the best, if not the only path, to ensuring that the U.S., Israel and the world never have to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Dershowitz buys into the boogeyman of "the bad deal” when in fact, there is no actual deal to attack. With the precise contours, terms and mechanisms of a first step agreement impossible to know—because it does not yet exist—Dershowitz and other opponents of the administration’s efforts conveniently assert that they will be unacceptable. He should give the real experts who are handling these highly technical issues a chance to succeed, rather than assuming he knows their bottom line better than they do.

It’s easy to build straw man arguments and throw out insults. Yes, Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement failed to protect Czechoslovakia and Poland from Nazi aggression and prevent World War II. Does that make anyone who tries to avoid war another Chamberlain, and every war proponent another Churchill? Was George W. Bush another Churchill when he invaded Iraq in 2003?

Let’s get beyond the name-calling and treat each crisis and each challenge on its own merits. Diplomacy leading to a tough, verifiable deal with Iran would be good for Israel, good for the United States and good for the world.

Dylan Williams is J Street’s director of government affairs.

At the Arak heavy water nuclear facility, near Arak, 250 kilometers southwest of Tehran, Iran, January 15, 2011.Credit: AP

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