June 14, 2009


Did he really just do that? Is he crazy? If he wasn’t, why would he do it? Iran’s supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has competition. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to prove he’s the toughest man in the Middle East.

The winds of change seem to have reversed their direction. After a string of success in Cairo, Lebanon, and Pakistan, a new wave has crashed over President Obama, one created by North Korea, Iran, and Israel - company Israel would surely object to.

But if Netanyahu’s demands are sincere and not a game, his policy speech will prove to be a major obstacle towards a tw0-state solution.

“Israel cannot agree to a Palestinian state unless it gets guarantees it is demilitarized,” Netanyahu said at Bar-ll University, famous for its conservatism. "In any peace agreement, the territory under Palestinian control must be disarmed, with solid security guarantees for Israel.”

This unrealistic demand was met with praise from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who said, “The President welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech... and believes this solution can and must ensure both Israel's security and the fulfillment of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for a viable state, and he welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu's endorsement of that goal.”

Is a military not included in legitimate aspirations for a viable state? The West considers the security of its citizens the first, inalienable priority of a democracy. One has to hope that Obama isn’t agreeing with a demilitarized Palestine, only a general two-state solution, because the peace process isn’t moving if Israel is serious.

Furthermore, Netanyahu claimed Jerusalem for Israel, refused to halt settlements and denied refugees the right of return, all deal breakers. Obama's approval stands in ugly contrast to the Palestinian response.

“Netanyahu's speech closed the door to permanent status negotiations,” senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. “We ask the world not to be fooled by his use of the term Palestinian state because he qualified it. He declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, said refugees would not be negotiated and that settlements would remain."

“Netanyahu's remarks have sabotaged all initiatives, paralyzed all efforts being made and challenges the Palestinian, Arab and American positions,” said Nabil Abu Rudeinah, an aid to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. “This will not lead to complete and just peace.”

“We want both Israeli and Palestinian children to live without war,” Netanyahu said rhetorically. "We must ask ourselves - why has peace not yet arrived after 60 years?"

Apparently statements like his.

Now why would Netanyahu say what he did? Are his demands sincere? Is he trying to sabotage the peace process? Is he being pressured? Is it personal history or has he lost his mind? His actions are a combination of many factors, but none so fresh as Iran’s current unrest.

At the outset, it seemed illogical to deny Mir Hossein Mousavi, the challenger of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a fair election. Mousavi wasn’t against nuclear weapons, only Iranian isolation, and denounced the Holocaust. Presenting a kinder Iranian face to the world could actually assist Iran’s nuclear progress.

Ahmadinejad is too easy of a target, too easy to deny the world's deadliest weapons. Mousavi would have developed Iran’s nuclear program behind a smile, so why suppress him when the world is ready to pounce, especially Israel? Khamenei gave Israel exactly what it wanted, a demon to point at and tease Obama, “See, some things don’t change.”

Iran’s election fallout rattled Israel even more, emboldened its lobby and supporters in America, and fueled Netanyahu’s speech. Khamenei sent his message to America and Israel - he isn’t backing down. Netanyahu decided that neither can he, that the only realistic way Israel will be secure is if Palestinians don’t own weapons or their sky. Surely the world will understand after events in Iran.

But Netanyahu spoiled the advantage by copying Khamenei, provoking radical militants and peace advocates alike. By calling for a neutered Palestinian state, Netanyahu gave proof to Islamic militants and Abbas’ officials that Israel won’t change either.

And so Netanyahu and Khamenei dance across the Middle East like Godzilla and Rodan, dragging America underneath. President Obama is trying to play the middle man, but he must be careful not to become the monkey in the Middle East. He put himself out there though and will now face incoming fire.

“President Obama, the ball is in your court tonight,” Erekat said. “You have the choice tonight. You can treat Netanyahu as a prime minister above the law and close off the path of peace tonight and set the whole region on the path of violence, chaos, extremism and bloodletting.”

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