Trump vs. Netanyahu

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President Donald Trump and visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk along the Colonnade of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019.
President Donald Trump and visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk along the Colonnade of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

The signs of imminent direct negotiations between U.S. President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rohani uphold the logic that guided the Obama administration, which led to the signing of the nuclear deal with Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who went all out in an attempt to prevent the deal, speaking against it to the U.S. Congress, will now have to recognize the fact that diplomacy is not just the default option of Obama, or a “weak leftist” leader (as he mocks the Israeli opposition).

It appears that even Trump – liberator of the American Embassy in Jerusalem and conqueror of Trump Heights in the Golan – realizes that a deal with Iran is preferable to war.

After three years during which Netanyahu’s influence on Trump and his entourage on the Iran issue prevailed, there are growing signs of a change of approach in Washington. A few weeks ago, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was invited to the G-7 meeting in Paris, where Trump was also in attendance. Last week in London, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that it appeared as if Iran was “inching toward that place where we could have talks,” adding that he hoped they would really happen. Two days ago, Trump himself said he had no problem meeting Iran’s president, and that such a meeting could take place.

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Moreover, Trump chose to deliver this message only a few hours after Netanyahu had convened a special press conference – similar to the one he convened in order to push Trump into withdrawing from the accord – in which he declared that Israel had identified more sites that were part of Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu called on the international community “to wake up, to understand that they’re constantly lying, and join the U.S. and Israel.”

Trump’s words are a rejection of Netanyahu’s call. His willingness to meet Rohani places him on the side of the international community, led by France, which wishes to resume negotiations. On Tuesday evening, Trump went ever farther and fired his national security adviser, John Bolton – his most hawkish advisor on Iran.

This shift should not be taken lightly. Netanyahu’s approach saw the accord with Iran as something akin to the 1938 Munich agreement, with Rohani as another Hitler. Netanyahu viewed any attempt to negotiate with the Iranian regime as a sign of defeatist appeasement in the Neville Chamberlain mode. Netanyahu presented Rohani as a leader one cannot negotiate with, just as Hitler could not be negotiated with. The fact that Trump publicly declared that he has no problem meeting Rohani is a rebuttal of the “Munich paradigm” touted by Netanyahu. The change in Trump’s position pulls the rug out from under Netanyahu’s campaign, which presents Iran as a Nazi monster while at the same time putting Israel’s trust in the hands of an American president who is willing to negotiate with it.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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