Trusting Diplomacy

I take my hat off to US Secretary of State John Kerry. Less than one year in office and he has brokered Israel and the Palestinians to agreeing to negotiate a permanent settlement with a target of nine months; he together with Russia have brokered the dismantling of the Syrian chemical arsenal aiming for a nine month target period; and he has stated that intensifying diplomatic efforts with Iran could produce an agreement on its nuclear program within a three-to-six month time frame. Agreements may be reached and signed quickly. Ambitious deadlines may make headlines and instil euphoria, but any lapse in the time frame will result in dejection. I am all for diplomacy but I suggest that Kerry should consider the motives that inspire people to change their minds and path of action. Words are not going to replace actions. Israel is at the centre of the Triangle of the agreements suggested about the Palestinians, Syria and Iran. Kerry should contemplate why these have changed their views and policies about Israel.

In the negotiations with Iran there has been no mention of the rescinding of statements about the destruction of the State of Israel, or about the right of the State of Israel to exist as the Jewish national homeland. There has also been no mention of what Iran is doing in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, Sudan, Sinai and Gaza. In the negotiations Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has made four clear statements 1) Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear enrichment which is not negotiable, 2) but it did not need to enrich uranium to military-grade levels and 3) Iran is willing to open its nuclear facilities to international inspections as part of a nuclear deal, 4) as long as the United States ended economic sanctions. For such an agreement to be effective, and it can be, there needs to be a very verifiable, accountable, transparent process. The US and Iran may therefore be normalising diplomatic and other relations after 34 years. However such an agreement does not prevent Iran from continuing to support organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah or from supplying them with rockets to strike Israel and its civilian population. There is therefore no improvement in relations between Israel and Iran. At best the nuclear threat against Israel has been postponed, while the conventional attacks continue.

President Assad of Syria continues to deny the use of chemical weapons but has agreed to relinquish his chemical arsenal to head off an armed strike under a US-Russian deal which was enshrined in a landmark UN Security Council resolution. There is no reason to suspect that he will not comply. However there is no talk of Assad’s departure. The US deal and warming of relations with Iran who is Syria’s ally and the US-Russia deal about the Syrian chemical arsenal have impacted European countries who are now struggling to play a role in the much-delayed peace conference on Syria which is now being planned for mid-November in Geneva. If there is no end to the civil-war and to Assad’s regime then the security of Israel’s northern border remains in a perilous state. Syria and Iran need to end their support for Hezbollah and Syria needs to stop interfering in Lebanon’s domestic affairs. There is therefore no improvement in relations between Israel and Syria. At best the chemical threat against Israel has been mitigated, while the conventional and insurgent threats continue.

In the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority it is very likely that an agreement will be reached. However the stumbling block is the Palestinians not in the negotiations. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is ironically not between Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas who ended his term of office in January 2009 without a further mandate but with Hamas in Gaza, who are not in the negotiations. The talks about talks initiated by Kerry between Israel and the Palestinians appear to focus on Judea and Samaria (The West Bank).  So any settlement reached, and it may well be reached within nine months, will not resolve the main immediate Palestinian threat against Israel, Hamas from Gaza. There will therefore be no amelioration in the threat of violence against Israel from Palestinians. At best Israel will have bought time against the demographic bomb of more non-Jews than Jews within the borders of Israel, by having changed the borders of Israel to exclude those non-Jews.

I praise US Secretary of State John Kerry, his President, all their staff and their efforts. There is no doubt that if they succeed then the world will be a better place for all. However trusting diplomacy as a solution means identifying all the issues and resolving them. For Israel, American diplomacy on Iran and Syria and sponsored on the Palestinians, falls short.

Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.