Israeli President Backs US Efforts to Engage Iran
By Andrew F. Tully, RFE/RL
U.S. Presses New Israeli Government To Back
Israeli President Shimon Perez has met with U.S.
President Barack Obama in Washington as a prelude to a visit in on May 18 from
the Jewish state's new, hard-line prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.
After meeting with Obama, Peres said his country should support U.S. efforts to
address Iran diplomatically.
Although as president, Peres's status is largely ceremonial, he maintains
influence in his country as a former prime minister. And he urged Israelis to
support Obama's efforts to engage Iran.
"If it works," Peres said, "it can be the best thing."
For Netanyahu, however, Iran must be confronted about its nuclear program, which
he calls Israel's top priority. In the meantime, he announced what he called a
"triple-track" peace process that includes progress on the political, security,
and economic fronts for the Palestinians.
Netanyahu made the announcement via satellite from Jerusalem to the annual
convention in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC),
a leading pro-Israel lobbying group.
Appearing in person at the same event was U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden,
whose previous career in the Senate included deep involvement in foreign affairs
and who is now a leading foreign-policy adviser to the president.
Biden spoke of his long support for Israel, and demanded that the Palestinians
get better control over some of their more militant elements. But he also spoke
emphatically about what he saw as Israel's responsibilities, too, and that
includes backing the "two-state" solution.
"Israel has to work towards a two-state solution -- you're not going to like my
saying this -- but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and
allow Palestinians freedom of movement based on their first actions, its access
to economic opportunity, and increased security responsibility," Biden said.
"This is a 'show-me' deal. Not based on faith, [but] 'show me.'"
Such actions by the Israelis -- if they took them -- would demonstrate their
resolve for peace, and go a long way toward the two-state solution. And having
Biden call for them before such an audience was a sign that Obama has no
intention of easing pressure on Israel to try harder for peace with the
Many analysts say that is the only way that Israel can hope to make peace with
its other neighbors in the Middle East.
But that's not the view of Francis Boyle, a professor of international law at
the University of Illinois. He also was a legal adviser to the Palestinian
delegation to the Madrid Conference of 1991, the formal start of the current
Boyle says that he has long urged Middle East negotiators to focus on Israel
first making peace with its neighbors, particularly Syria and Lebanon. For
Netanyahu to pay so much attention now to Iran, he says, is not only irrelevant,
it makes peace harder to achieve.
"A settlement here -- and not just between Israel and the Palestinians, but
Israel and Syria and Lebanon -- would stabilize the Middle East," Boyle says.
"And unfortunately it just seems to me that the new Israeli government is really
trying to switch the goal posts here."
Boyle says he doesn't believe Iran is, in fact, trying to develop a nuclear
weapon, and says most people in the West -- particularly in Western Europe --
don't believe it, either, no matter what suspicions their governments may
In fact, Boyle says even Muhammad el-Baradei, the director-general of the UN's
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has questions about the exact nature
of Iran's nuclear program.
"Certainly the Bush administration made those claims [about an Iranian weapons
program], and I guess there are some people in the Obama administration that
might see it that way. On the other hand, it appears there are others that might
not and are prepared to sit down with the Iranians and negotiate in good faith,"
"And it seems to me that that's the best way to deal with the Iranians.
Secretary of State [Hilary] Clinton said she is prepared to do this. Iran has
indicated that they are prepared to negotiate over their nuclear program."
Instead of paying so much attention to Iran, Boyle says, it's probably best that
Israel move quickly to pursue peace with Syria and Lebanon, then immediately
start negotiations with the Palestinians for a two-state solution, under the
guidance of the Obama administration.
But if the Israelis don't move fast, Boyle says, the grim conditions in the West
Bank and particularly in Gaza could lead to a third Palestinian "intifada," or
uprising. He says that's something no one can afford today.
Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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