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Israel, the Palestinians, and the Interim Nuclear Deal With Iran

No nation willingly takes action unless it believes that the action is in its own best interest. So, it is utter nonsense when we are told that Israel is reluctant to move forward on a deal with the Palestinians because it does not "feel the love" from America and the Obama administration in view of the secret American negotiations with Iran and the interim nuclear deal signed by Iran and the P5+1 powers. It is similarly baseless when we are told that the interim deal with Iran coupled with the effort to negotiate an end to the war in Syria demonstrate that Washington is preparing to turn its attention away from the region and somehow that provides a legitimate reason for Israel to back off its negotiations with the Palestinians.

The claim by those in Israel and in the American Jewish community that President Obama has "thrown Israel under the bus" in entering the interim deal with Iran just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. In narrowly framing the only deal that would be acceptable to Israel as one that would stop the Iranians from any kind of nuclear enrichment, Prime Minster Netanyahu has set the bar too high to be realistic. It is not credible that Iran would agree to such a deal, however strong the sanction regime. The result is that the only alternative to Netanyahu's deal would be a war with Iran, with all the uncertainties as to what would be accomplished and the possibilities of costly escalation. The Obama administration, fully reflecting the view of the American people, does not want a war unless every other possibility for a peaceful resolution has been explored and has failed.

What Israel, Saudi Arabia and those other nations opposed to the Iranian deal can contribute of great value is in depth intelligence, in carefully monitoring the actions of the Iranians to insure that they are indeed carrying out the terms of the deal and when the interim period has ended, determining whether Iran is closer to a nuclear capability than it was before. In addition, those nations in opposition can help the United States maintain the full force of the sanctions that have not been lifted under the terms of the agreement and apply pressure on nations and businesses not to allow sanctions to weaken during the interim period so that they can be fully reinstated if they have to be.

As for the impact of the Iranian deal on Israel's relationship with the Palestinians -- long before the secret negotiations with Iran had begun, in these pages and elsewhere I, like others, questioned whether Prime Minister Netanyahu truly sought a two state solution with the Palestinians. We pointed to his personal history as well as the effect any deal would have in destroying his political coalition. And we also noted that the Palestinian issue was not in the forefront of concerns of the Israeli people, although a strong commitment from their leaders could probably convince them to accept a two state deal.

Now, that the period for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians set by Secretary Kerry is one third completed, it does not appear that the parties have made significant enough progress to lead to the belief that a deal ultimately can be reached. This has nothing to do with America's diplomatic efforts regarding Iran. In fact, the why of the failing negotiations does not really matter. What does matter is that they are failing and there is little hope for a negotiated resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The question now is what can replace that approach.

There are some in the United States and the region who would now call on the Obama Administration to offer bridging solutions to the parties. These proposals range from the President providing suggestions to resolve specific issues to his presenting a defined plan covering all the points and pressuring the parties to accept the plan as presented. In light of the political position that the President finds himself -- a difficult opposition looking for any reason to attack him and a declining popularity -- it would be surprising if he used what little leverage he has to provide any forcible action in this arena.

Another approach being suggested by some in Israel calls for a "framework agreement" that would outline some of the key elements of a final status agreement such as the percent of West Bank areas allocated to each party but not resolve all the claims. It is suggested that this approach be coupled with financial programs that help move the Palestinian closer toward a viable state. However, it is hard to believe that this approach will be acceptable to the Palestinians, even though it is offered coated with financial incentives. The Palestinian leaders will most likely see it as a further delay of their ambition for statehood, allowing Israel time to expand its settlement program, notwithstanding any commitment to the contrary in the agreement.

The other possibility is some form of unilateral withdrawal by Israel even without a mutual agreement. This solution would appeal to those like Israeli author Ari Shavit who argue that Israel should separate itself from the Palestinians for its own benefit but that it should not expect a "peace" between them ever to work effectively. For my own part, as a Zionist who has long advocated that Israel avoid a bi-national state or absorbing any large part of the Palestinian population to ensure that it maintains its position as a democratic and Jewish state (see my HuffPost blog A Message From A Long Standing Zionist To The Israeli People, 08/08/2013), I would personally support unilateral withdrawal if a two state solution was impossible to achieve. However, at this time, such a unilateral approach has no significant support in Israel and after the perception of the result of unilateral withdrawal in Gaza and Lebanon, notwithstanding the reality of the benefit of those actions, unilateral action is highly unlikely.

Unhappily, the failure of the effort by Secretary Kerry to bring the parties together will leave a vacuum and no one can predict what will fill it. We are already seeing the beginnings of violence on both sides and one can only hope that it does not erupt in a significant way as it has in the past. Most likely we will see a continued drift along current lines where Israel expands settlements and the Palestinians turn to the UN and International pressure on Israel in the form of boycotts and divestiture. One has to wonder whether this will cause more real damage to Israel than Iran's efforts to achieve nuclear capability. At least, in the latter situation Israel has the overwhelming nuclear capability to face Iran down and also has the United States umbrella of support. What will it have to protect it if somehow it is seen as engaging in apartheid actions? I hope that day never comes; but the expansionist course now being followed by Israel has that danger attached to it.

Mr. Lifton's memoirs, An Entrepreneur's Journey: Stories From a Life in Business and Personal Diplomacy, was published by AuthorHouse in 2012.

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