Emanuel Shahaf

When the settlements hit the fan

While much of the Western world is following US Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts to keep negotiations with the Palestinians on an even keel and at the same time try reach some kind of agreement with Iran which could come close to meeting PM Netanyahu’s impossibly high standards, the Israeli public appears to be hardly involved in what goes on as long as the yelling between Kerry and Netanyahu doesn’t get too loud. Until now, their raised voices  have only resulted in media reports on yet another crisis brewing in the relations with Israel’s most important ally. The public nevertheless remains more concerned about the prices of apartments, the high cost of living and the perks alloted to high ranking civil servants, army personnel and bank managers.

There is method to this madness. The government is more than happy to defer to the agenda of the opposition and giving lip-service (or lying outright) regarding the socio-economic needs of the country. After all it keeps the public from opening its eyes to how far Israel ihas distanced itself from the international community in its attitudes to the resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians and Iran as well. Regarding the latter, Netanyahu is still trying to whip everybody into a frenzy over how Israel and the West is being taken for a ride by Iran through the foolhardy attitude of a bleary-eyed US administration which just wants to move ahead and its clueless President whose middle name keeps coming up as Hussein.

The Prime Minister knows enough about America, or at least should, to realize that the US will always look out for its own interests first. Those of its allies will be taken into account but they will never override US interests the way that they are perceived by any US administration. When the US under the Reagan administration decided to cut its nuclear arsenal in a way which seemed to impact the security of Western Europe, it nevertheless went ahead, leaving the Europeans protesting to no avail. When the US thought that selling AWACS aricraft to Saudi Arabia was in its interests, no amount of AIPAC lobbying in congress or other Israeli pressure was able to turn the tide.

While there appears to be general agreement over the policiy goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, there is no agreement whatsoever with regard to what length the P5+1 must go in the negotiations to achieve that goal. While Netanyahu apparently aims for a humiliated Iran that would be forced to give up any kind of technology which could conceivably be used to produce weapon grade fissile material, the P5+1 under US leadership would quite sensibly rather see an Iran not humiliated but with sufficient safeguards which would make nuclear breakout difficult or at least time consuming. Israel at this time sticks to its 100% solution which Iran cannot and will not accept unless forced to do so, something that is unlikely to happen.

So here’s the question? What is better ? Have Iran humiliated on the ropes with the hardliners coming out ahead and thus really working at getting weapons grade material to finish the job or have Iran finding its way back to the iternational community with a reasonable supervisory regime? Netanyahu must know by now that preventing a nation like Iran from developing nuclear weapons once it has decided to do so, is a pipe dream. According to best estimates, even a full scale military attack on the Iranian nuclear program is unlikely to delay their weapons program by much more than a couple of years.

Through his Republican friends in congress, Netanyahu can now make life even more miserable for Obama than it is anyway to keep up the pressure on Iran but, as always, there will be a price to pay. And here we come to the other issue at hand: Negotiations with the Palestinians. We know that things aren’t going well, to put it mildly and John Kerry’s recent broadside against Israel’s settlement policy has made it pretty clear that at least he has made up his mind who the culprit is. Housing Minister Ariel’s subsequent stunt to publicize long range plans for another more than 20,000 housing units in the West Bank has further alienated Kerry who certainly started with symapthies for Israel’s positions. Regardless of Netanyahu’s public cancellation of that particular boondoggle, the episode certainly clarified to the US administration what line of thought is calling the shots in Jerusalem. It is not likely to expend much more political capital on the Peace Process while coalition members of Israel’s government are actively sabotaging the negotiations.

Netanyahu then, through skillful bungling, picking fights like there is no tomorrow and missing out every single cue on the way, has maneuvered Israel into the unenviable situation where instead of trading very reasonable compromises on the Palestinian issue for reasonable gains on Iran, we will now lose out on both fronts, big time.  America will shortly table some bridging proposals on central issues with the Palestinians to cut its losses and leave us contemplating how we got there. And it will broker an agreement with Iran through the P5+1 which will be reasonable for Iran and unreasonable for us because we won’t settle for compromise. At the same time both Europe and the US will have had enough of Netanyahu and we will be left with our mess.


About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".