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Netanyahu, Obama & Jewish State

Amb. Zalman Shoval: 'George Mitchell Indicated That U.S. Shares Israel's Position That Israel Be Recognized As The Jewish State'

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: 'Israel Is Not Making It Precondition For Palestinian Negotiations But There Will Be No Agreement Without Palestinian Recognition That Israel Is National Home Of Jewish People'

'U.S. & Israel Want Regional Coalition to Confront Radical Islamist Threat Backed By Iran'

Benyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The Israeli-Palestinian peace track will now move to Washington, after American peace envoy concluded his second round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. It was the first time that Mitchell met with Israel's new Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The meetings came against the backdrop of the Egyptian uncovering of an Iranian Hezbollah terrorist ring operating Egypt that highlighted the clash between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab states. In an interview with Isracast, Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and adviser to Prime minister Netanyahu assessed the outcome of the Mitchell visit.

'We and U.S. envoy George Mitchell found more common ground on all the main issues including Iran and the Palestinians than was reflected in the media - that's how Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli Ambassador to Washington and adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, summed up the recent meetings in Israel. Shoval said of course there were differences of opinion on the Palestinian question and on Iran, but these were mainly over procedure and not on the ultimate aims.The Obama administration wants the Palestinians to govern themselves and the Netanyahu government does not want to rule over the Palestinians. Although Jerusalem and Washington had different formulations the two sides were not as far apart as might look appear.

Shoval told IsraCast: 'The U.S. shares the Israeli position that Israel is a Jewish state'

When it came to the American position in favor of the two-state solution for two peoples, Netanyahu had told Mitchell that he was opposed to another 'Hamastan' being created on the West Bank, similar to the Hamas takeover in Gaza - this was the result of U.S. pressure for a Palestinian election that Hamas exploited to later carry out a bloody coup. On this score, Shoval added that no one in Washington wanted another Hamastan on the West Bank or anywhere else in the Middle East. Moreover, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah's subversion inside Egypt highlighted the gravity of the radical Islamist threat to the Arab regimes.

Barack Obama

Ambassador Shoval spoke of different assessments on how to proceed and the best way to prevent Iran from exploiting radical Islamist movements to spread its hegemony over the Middle East. On one hand, there was the approach that favored 'moving full blast ahead to establishing a Palestinian state'. However, Shoval said the Netanyahu government was wary over repeating the mistake that precipitated the Hamas coup in Gaza. Netanyahu's approach postulated the future building of a  prosperous and viable Palestinian economy, the creation of a Palestinian governance under the rule of law that would not threaten Israelis. He noted that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, currently the Quartet's envoy, has also spoken of building a Palestinian state from the ground up.

U.S. and Israel do want a regional sort of coalition to confront both the nuclear and political threat posed by Iran

Referring to the two-state solution, George Mitchell spoke specifically of a 'Jewish state'. This was viewed as the first time that an American official used such a term. Netanyahu has argued that if Israel is being urged to accept a Palestinian state, it only stands to reason that the Palestinians accept Israel as the Jewish state. However, immediately after Mitchell made his statement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas again rejected it. An Abbas spokesman declared the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was 'an Israeli provocation'. All the Palestinians, moderates and extremists alike, categorically oppose the right of Jewish self- determination in their ancient homeland. Shoval told IsraCast: 'The U.S. shares the Israeli position that Israel is a Jewish state'. He went on to say that if Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Fayad did not agree, they would remain stuck where they were right now.

Moreover, Shoval added it was very strange that Abbas, who depends on Israeli security for his survival on the West Bank after losing half of the Palestinians to Hamas in Gaza,  was now trying to dictate to Israel and the U.S. as well. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said  he is not making the issue a precondition for Palestinian negotiations but there will be no agreement without Palestinian recognition of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.

During the Mitchell meeting, did a connection emerge between the Palestinian question and Iran? Shoval said there was such a link but not the way it was reported in the media. It was not as if Mitchell had told Netanyahu that if it wanted American support on Iran, Israel must remove settlements, and he added 'it was not as crude as that'. What emerged was that the U.S. and Israel do want a regional sort of coalition to confront both the nuclear and political threat posed by Iran. The Iranians did not need an arsenal of nuclear weapons; all they required was one bomb to shift the whole balance of power in the Middle East in favor Iranian hegemony.  The Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians were also opposed to the Iranian expansion among radical Palestinians and this was also an area of common ground between the U.S. and Israel. Netanyahu had told Mitchell that Iran's nuclear program was ' a clear and acute threat' - this was also recognized by the Obama administration. Although the U.S. wanted to proceed diplomatically at this stage, the Americans were aware of the need for a definite time-line, otherwise the Iranians could exploit the nuclear talks as a diplomatic cover for continuing their nuclear weapons program.

In light of the deterioration in their relations, after Egypt caught Iranian - backed Hezbollah operating subversively on Egyptian territory against the Mubarak regime, was there now an opportunity for Israel to follow up the Saudi peace initiative which is now supported by the Arab League? Shoval said it could not be an Arab 'take it or leave it' ultimatum to Israel. Indeed the situation had changed and Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab states now understood that the greatest threat to them were the radical Islamist movements supported by Iran. Although the Arabs had every right to put their proposals on the table, these had to be part of a negotiating process with the aim of making peace and not simply to pressure Israel.

David Essing

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