It is crystal ball time. Events of the past weeks are causing ripple effects throughout the Middle East.
The major pebble in the Mideast pond was the surprise detente between the United States and Russia over Syrian weapons. The questions arising from this agreement are whether it can actually be implemented and the implications for the Iranian nuclear program. Both questions have spillover effects on Israel, the latter being more important.
The media and the administration are under the thrall of the charm offensive of newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which included releasing some political prisoners, writing a Washington Post op-ed, and tweeting Rosh Hashana greetings to world Jewry.
Both the media and the administration rush to label Rouhani a “moderate,” which he may seem when compared to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When compared to Stalin, Khrushchev also could have been called a “moderate.” The media and politicos have an interest in cozying up to Rouhani because everyone wants the next invite to his table.
Everyone was anxiously awaiting Ahmadinejad’s first appearance before the UN. Now, there is a similar watch for Rouhani’s first appearance. The buzz of the day is whether Rouhani and President Obama have an “accidental” meeting in the UN corridors.
All this has led to speculation that Obama and Rouhani will cut a deal. After what happened with Syria, it would seem Obama would rather emulate Chamberlain than Churchill, whose White House bust he returned to Britain as one of his first acts as president, and appease rather than fight to defend a principle.
And yet, objectively, nothing has changed in the Iranian administration, other than the optics and the messenger. Ahmadinejad’s and Rouhani’s master is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose approval was necessary to allow each of them to run for, and serve as, president. Is there any reason to believe that Khamenei’s positions on the West, America, Israel, and nuclear weapons have changed because Iran has a new president who uses a reconciliatory tone with the West?
Israel, after all, was not mentioned in Rouhani’s live-and-let-live op-ed.
No one knows this more than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly a week after Rouhani and Obama (who does the scheduling?). The New York Times reports his intent is to blunt the Iranian diplomatic offensive. He plans to warn that a nuclear deal with the Iranian government could be a trap similar to one set by North Korea eight years ago. We know the results of that ploy. According to Israeli sources, Netanyahu’s message will be that “a bad agreement is worse than no agreement at all.”
Speaking of bad agreements, this month marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords. Have they brought Israel peace? From three opinion pieces published last week, I would say no.
Ian Lustick, a founder of the Association for Israel Studies, wrote an obit for the two-state solution in the Times titled “Two-State Illusion.” He believes the quest for a two-state solution is a fantasy, proposing instead a unitary state. He argues the United States acts as Israel’s enabler and protector, shielding Israel from the harsh reality of the “the full autonomy and realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”
Lustick suggests Israel satisfy Palestinian key political requirements rather than on maximizing Israeli prerogatives; publicly acknowledge Israeli mistakes and responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians; and sacrifice Israel’s nuclear weapons. Such measures, he argues, could lead to a single state which, in turn, may lead to eventual Palestinian independence.
According to Lustick, “Once the illusion of a neat and palatable solution to the conflict disappears, Israeli leaders may then begin to see, as South Africa’s white leaders saw in the late 1980s, that their behavior is producing isolation, emigration and hopelessness.”
Writing for the Gatestone Institute, Soeren Kern asks if Europe is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic? He points to new guidelines prohibiting the EU from funding Israeli institutions based or operating anywhere beyond the Green Line. Israel has challenged the guidelines, while a group of nearly 500 European academics and a group of far-left Israeli intellectuals, academics, and artists have written in support.
The European Jewish Congress has called the guidelines “discriminatory,” noting that the EU only has applied such guidelines to Israel and not to other territorial disputes. It also accused the EU of violating the Oslo Accords, which it signed, by changing the current status of disputed territories ahead of final status negotiations.
No wonder Israeli Knesset member Danny Danon, in a Times op-ed last Friday, called for Israel to annul the Oslo Accords. As if answering Lustick, Danon wrote, “Only by officially annulling the Oslo Accords will we have the opportunity to rethink the existing paradigm and hopefully lay the foundations for a more realistic modus vivendi between the Jews and Arabs of this region.”
He proposes a “three-state solution” among the countries that controlled territory prior to the 1967 war: Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. “All the region’s states must participate in the process of creating a long-term solution for the Palestinian problem,” he wrote.
There are a lot of balls in the air in the Middle East. Where they will land is anyone’s guess.