Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may suffer collateral damage from the accord world powers reached with Iran if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu persists in linking his two biggest diplomatic challenges.
Netanyahu, who called the Iran deal a “historic mistake,” often cites the Islamic republic’s repeated talk of Israel’s destruction as a reason to be more cautious in peacemaking with the Palestinians.
“Our aspiration for peace is liable to be severely affected if Iran succeeds” in winning a relaxation of penalties that have devastated its economy, he said in a Twitter message on Oct. 23.
The US-led peace effort “was facing long odds to begin with,” said Aaron David Miller, a former US Middle East negotiator. “The problem is now, if, in the wake of this agreement you have an angry, aggrieved Israeli prime minister, then that is going to only increase those odds” against reaching an accord.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev had no comment when asked if the prime minister stands by his statement last month about peacemaking.
US Secretary of State John Kerry brought Israelis and Palestinians together for talks in July after a three-year deadlock and mapped out a nine-month framework to reach a peace agreement that has eluded them since they began negotiating more than 20 years ago.
Throughout his tenure, US President Barack Obama has wrestled with Netanyahu over Israel’s push to take tougher action — and perhaps use military force — against Iran, and Netanyahu’s resistance to US pressure to stop settlement construction on land Palestinians claim for a state.
The accord reached in Geneva broke a decade-long diplomatic stalemate, setting limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for about US$7 billion in relief from sanctions over six months. Netanyahu maintains the deal will embolden Iran to pursue nuclear weapons work, rather than encourage it to halt it. Iran denies it aims to build bombs.
The six-month accord is designed to give negotiators time to reach a final accord that would ensure Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.
Miller said the similar timelines for reaching final deals with both Iran and the Palestinians would mean “tremendous angst and anxiety on the Israeli side.”
Obama called Netanyahu on Sunday in a bid to reassure him of the administration’s “firm commitment” to Israel, “which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions,” Josh Earnest said.
Amid snags in the talks, Palestinians articulated their own linkage of the Iranian deal, saying it should reinforce the need to reach an agreement with Israel.
“What was achieved in Geneva is an important message to Israel that peace is the only option for the Middle East,” said Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Kerry, who has made eight visits to the region since taking office in February, expressed frustration with Netanyahu in a Nov. 7 TV interview after Israeli plans to build thousands of apartments in settlements were publicized.
“How can you say we’re planning to build in the place that will eventually be Palestine?” Kerry said. “It sends a message that somehow, perhaps you’re not really serious.”
Other peace process veterans predict renewed efforts to break the stalemate between Netanyahu and Abbas as Kerry expands his mediation team led by former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, turning them into bargaining chips for Palestinian aspirations to statehood.