Israel should have a positive view of the United States’ efforts in nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, said former Israeli foreign minister, ambassador, and Knesset member, Shlomo Ben-Ami, to a standing-room-only audience at American University last Thursday. Ben-Ami, who participated with PM Barak in the Camp David Summit and later led the Israeli team in negotiations with the Palestinians, believes that current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority should rest on agreeing to internationally recognized borders, without Israel requiring an end to aggression, which he believes is impossible and outside the control of the Palestinian leaders.
During the event, sponsored by The Center for Israel Studies, Ben-Ami said that it is not beneficial for Israel to resist U.S. negotiations with Iran, saying that an economically competitive Middle East would also benefit Israel. He pointed out that Israel and Iran were initially allies and had close trade relations even after the Iranian revolution.
According to Ben-Ami, relations soured as Israel, encouraged by the U.S., began negotiating peace and trade agreements with Arab nations and seeking a two-state solution with the Palestinians. The new dynamic between Israel and its neighboring Arab states, most significantly after the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat, left Iran feeling that it needed to seek nuclear weapons for its own security.
“More an enemy of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation than of Israel as such,” the mullah regime’s response was to create “an incendiary anti-Jewish, pan-Islamic discourse as its way to extract Iran from its isolation and present its regional ambitions in a light palatable to the Sunni majorities,” Ben-Ami said.
Yet, he believes expectations of Israeli leaders and U.S. members of Congress that the goal of achieving a full de-nuclearization of Iran is highly unlikely and that the focus of the negotiations should be on bringing Iran towards a political transformation similar to the Soviet Union. Though, he admits, this should be a long-term goal.
“The introduction of Iran into the global system has the potential of making it into a more benign regional and international player,” Ben-Ami said.
As to negotiations being pursued by Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Ben-Ami believes it is less an issue of differences than appearance for the citizens of the two sides.
“Sometimes I think that the pre-state situation [for Palestine] is a much more heroic condition than the banality of running a state,” Ben-Ami said, pointing out that the Palestinian cause has been the incredibly successful at gaining support internationally.
There is no question, according to Ben-Ami, that a two-state solution can be reached on the basis of the 1967 borders and will include a Palestinian capital in a partitioned Jerusalem, but success in negotiations is unlikely because there is a lack of public support for any agreement. Additionally, Israel would most likely not be willing to offer the right of return to Palestinian refugees and the P.A would not accept Israeli demands to be recognized as a Jewish state.
He explained that his view on the issue has evolved from the time when he was personally involved in negotiations.
Previously “I thought that we should aspire to have an agreement that says end of conflict, and finality of claims. Today, I think that these are values that have been elevated unnecessarily into mythological heights, because there’s not going to be end of conflict, even if [PLO Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas signs it [an agreement].”
Ben-Ami doubts that any agreement could impress Hezbollah and Hamas enough to consider peaceful coexistence with Israel.
For these and other reasons, a U.S.-sponsored deal is highly unlikely, and Ben-Ami believes there will be future attempts that involve the international community, similar to the P5+1 conference with Iran for negotiations to approach success.