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Update from AIJAC

October 30, 2009
Number 10/09 #09

With US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton due to arrive in Israel on Sunday to attempt to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian talks, many Israeli analysts are pessimistic about her prospects. We feature two prominent examples, as well as some additional high-level Israeli comment on the uranium trans-shipment deal still being negotiated between Iran and the international community.

First up is Israeli strategic analyst Efraim Inbar of Bar-Ilan University, who attempts to analyse why he believes the US Administration and their envoy, George Mitchell, are failing to make progress towards peace, despite their best efforts. He cites some strategic errors by Washington, and other problems, but says the most important problem is the rift in the Palestinians and their inability to develop a monopoly on the use of force. He argues that this is unlikely to change and the US should shift gears and attempt to get a return to the pre-1967 situation, where Jordan and Egypt were responsible for the West Bank and Gaza. For all of his argument, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, academic turned peace activist Yossi Alpher argues that while Palestinian unity is dangerous, a deal is possible between Israel and Abbas over just the West Bank. And for those who did not see it in today's Australian, David Makovsky takes up the dangers of negotiating with Hamas.

Next up, the prolific Professor Barry Rubin makes some similar arguments to Inbar and goes even further, arguing that even talks on final status issues are unlikely to occur soon, given the state of the Palestinian Authority. Rubin argues that PA President Mahmoud Abbas fears his Fatah and Hamas rivals more than he fears the US Administration, and basically fears for his life if he backs down and agrees to talks now. He also says that Washington is making a mistake in effectively promising to restart talks when it is unlikely to be able to deliver on that promise. For the rest of what Rubin has to say. CLICK HERE. Also dwelling on Abbas' difficult position, his unwillingness to negotiate, and unhappiness with the Obama Administration's approach is Avi Issacharoff of Haaretz. Other interesting recent comments from Barry Rubin include calls for Westerners to listen to what Palestinian and Arab leaders are saying in Arabic, and a critique of Western approaches to Syria

In addition, Iran now appears to be effectively rejecting the uranium deal being offered by the US, Russia and the EU - see here and here. Analysis of the implications of the deal if it does go ahead comes from top Israeli academics Efraim Asculai and Emily Landau, both of of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies. They question whether the deal being proposed can be an effective test of Iranian intentions, as the US Administration appears to believe it can. They effectively conclude the international community may be better off if Iran rejects this deal, as it appears to be about to. For their complete analysis, CLICK HERE. Additional comments or analysis on the parameters of the proposed uranium deal come from Robert Kagan of the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, BICOM and Michael Hessel of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. Also some comments on Iran strategy come from strategic experts Bob Baer and Victor Davis Hanson.

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George Mitchell's mission impossible

Efraim Inbar

THE JERUSALEM POST, Oct. 26, 2009


The appointment of Senator George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East in January 2009 elicited great expectations for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track, particularly since the new American president, Barack Obama, eloquently communicated his intent to renew peace negotiations and end them successfully within his first term in office. After nine months and many trips to the Middle East, a plethora of meetings with the leaders in the region and even an Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas summit in New York last month, Senator Mitchell seems unable to report success to his boss.

There are several reasons for this outcome, some conjectural and some structural.

First, Obama's behavior has not been helpful. He has insisted on a comprehensive settlement freeze, which the Palestinians turned into a precondition for sitting at the negotiating table. So far it has backfired, indicating Washington's limitations in imposing its will on Jerusalem, as well as the diplomatic acumen of Netanyahu's government. Moreover, the arm-twisting to persuade Abbas to come to the New York summit further undermined the position of the weak Palestinian leader. On top of this, Washington rightly demanded that the Palestinian Authority defer the presentation of the infamous Goldstone report to UN forums. Yet Abbas's acquiescence in the American demand exposed him to the criticism of Hamas, the main competitor in Palestinian politics. All this hampered the PA's flexibility toward Israel and hindered the return to negotiations.

Second, in Israel, the Netanyahu government advocated a return to negotiations without preconditions - prima facie, a very reasonable position. Moreover, following Netanyahu's June 2009 diplomatic address at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, over 70 percent of Israelis, a very high figure, endorsed his policies on the Palestinian issue. This political feat made Israel less vulnerable to outside pressure. Furthermore, Israel gained American promises to secure Arab gestures as a quid pro quo for its concessions. Washington was unable to deliver, indicating again the limits of American clout in the region.

Poor Mitchell was sent into diplomatic battle when most of the region was quite impressed with Obama's rhetoric but was not convinced that words would be followed by deeds. Unfortunately, the heyday of American power and influence in the Middle East is over. When American diplomacy is not backed by "hard" power, the "soft" power extolled nowadays by Washington carries only little weight with the realpolitik-oriented Middle Eastern elites. Most capitals of the region regard Obama as weak. This does not augur well for Mitchell, as even the weak Palestinians are able to say "no."

THE TRUTH is that even a much stronger America cannot impose peace agreements. In 1991, the tough Secretary of State James Baker was successful in convening the Madrid conference, but the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreement and the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty were the result of bilateral interactions with no American input. Similarly, Anwar Sadat decided to go to Jerusalem in 1977 when President Carter wanted him to fly to Geneva instead for an international peace conference. Outsiders have limited ability to induce change in how Middle Easterners conduct their business, as recent American experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan indicate.

American diplomacy can hardly make a dent in the schism within Palestinian society that is the main stumbling block for progress in peace-making. As long as Islamist Hamas has a powerful grip on the Palestinian ethos and Palestinian aspirations, and as long as its ruthless rule over Gaza continues, Palestinian politics are hostage to the extremists and are unable to move toward an historic compromise with the Jewish-Zionist national movement. Mitchell cannot even prevent a draft of a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation document that does not conform to Quartet demands (renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect past agreements).

The final obstacle for Mitchell is the nature of his mandate - the pursuit of an outdated paradigm, the two-state solution. Unfortunately, the desired outcome of the Oslo process, partition of the Land of Israel into two states - Jewish and Palestinian - was not achieved and this predicament is unlikely to change any time soon. The Palestinians failed the main test of statehood: monopoly over the use of force. They allowed armed militias to erode law and order in the areas under their control. This culminated in the bloody Hamas takeover of Gaza. Even Hamas in Gaza failed to acquire a monopoly over the use of force: witness the existence of the armed groups Islamic Jihad, elements of al-Qaida and certain clans. As noted, Palestinian society, be it in the West Bank or Gaza, is not entertaining reconciliation with the Jews. The shaheed (martyr) is still the role model in the Palestinian media and education system.

Mitchell, and with him a large part of the international community, fail to understand that the ethnic conflict being waged in the Holy Land will end only when the parties tire. So far, Israelis and Palestinians still have energy to fight for what is important to them.

Therefore, what is needed is a new policy paradigm. It is high-time to consider a return to the status quo ante of pre-1967. Jordan and Egypt are responsible states at peace with Israel that successfully ruled over the Palestinians. They should be induced to share responsibility for regional stability. The Palestinian potential for regional mischief is not only Israel's problem.

The writer is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. This article originally appeared on www.bitterlemons.org and is reprinted with permission.

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The Big Freeze: U.S. Policy on Peace Process comes to Dead Halt and Likely to Remain that Way

By Barry Rubin

GLORIA, October 21, 2009

If solving the Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict is the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy—at times it seems the keystone of the government’s entire policy—there's an obvious problem derailing it.

Here it is. The president of the United States on several occasions and notably in his UN speech and high officials repeatedly have announced that they want and expect there to be quick, final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to resolve all issues and end the conflict.

This event isn't going to happen.

When the president of the United States announces there will be talks soon and has no reason to believe that's true he's making a fool of himself. It is one of the most basic rules of presidential behavior that you don't put the chief executive’s prestige on the line, that you do not let him predict an imminent event, unless you know for darn sure it is going to happen.

Yet when President Barack H. Obama stood before the world's assembled leaders that's precisely what he did. For an administration approaching the end of its first year in office that's dangerous amateurism.

The fly in the ointment here is the PA and this is no minor detail. The PA says repeatedly that it will not even meet formally with Israel until all construction on all Jewish settlements on the West Bank plus east Jerusalem stop completely. Already, however, U.S.-Israel discussions have moved past that point. We don’t know precisely where they stand but clearly the administration isn’t pushing for a total halt and it isn’t pushing all that urgently on the issue.

Therefore, while Israel has succeeded in conciliating the United States, the PA is going to defy the United States. We know that it is serious in doing so because of what has just happened with the Goldstone report in the UN. The administration asked the PA not to take a leading role in pushing the report; the PA complied for about 48 hours and then internal pressure forced it to go back on its word. Most of this pressure was not the spontaneous outrage of the masses but from the hardline elements which dominate the ruling Fatah group as well as in the PA itself.

In short, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is not going to back down on his demand. He is more afraid of his own colleagues, Hamas’s baiting him as a “moderate” (a compliment perhaps from the West but a deadly insult in Palestinian politics), and his own people than of Obama. Indeed, nobody is afraid of Obama which is one of the main problems with his foreign policy.

Disdaining the use of threats, leverage, and pressure, the Obama administration is not likely to push the PA very hard on this and even if it did Abbas would stand firm. Having extolled the Palestinians as peace-loving martyrs, courting Arab and Muslim opinion, treasuring popularity, the administration won’t get tough. No amount of funding or other goodies is going to move the PA or Abbas either. For Abbas, it is something like the classical choice which can be paraphrased as: Your money or your life?

So there is, and will be, a deadlock, month after month through into 2010. Is there some clever way out? I don’t see one and am willing to bet the administration doesn’t either.

Remember this president said repeatedly--in his Cairo speech, at the UN, almost daily--that he is going to solve the issue; that his predecessor missed easy opportunities to do so; that this is the world's main issue. So what's he going to do other than spin about how hard he's working and how much progress he's making?

In contrast, Abbas  has an attractive policy alternative: strike a militant pose, blame America, seek rapprochement with Hamas. In addition, what both the United States and Europe fails to see is that the Palestinians don’t need or want rapid progress on negotiations or even a state except on what would be completely their own terms.

The Palestinians can also afford the luxury of believing—and this is what Western policy has taught them—that Europe and America needs them more than they need the West. Moreover they believe, and again this is what they have been shown, that intransigence on their part actually brings more criticism on Israel. If you believe, rightly or wrongly, that the world is about to condemn Israel as a pariah, war criminal state why make compromises with it?

This is the corner into which the Obama Administration has painted itself. And all that it has left is what might be called the cat strategy. Have you ever seen a cat miss a leap or have an embarrassing fall? It merely licks itself and looks around with an expression saying: I meant to do that. Everything is going according to plan.
But it isn’t.

The newest development is the idea, favored by many in the European Union, of endorsing PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s “plan” for there to be a Palestinian state within two years. Of course, this won’t happen either.

The whole thing is taking on a comic opera air. It reminded me of something. And then I remembered: the classical description of the Arab defeat in the 1948 war and Israel’s creation by Constantine Zurayk, vice-president of the American University of Beirut, in his book The Meaning of the Disaster. He wrote:

“Seven Arab states declare war on Zionism in Palestine, stop impotent before it and turn on their heels. The representatives of the Arabs deliver fiery speeches in the highest international forums, warning what the Arab state and peoples will do if this or that decision be enacted. Declarations fall like bombs from the mouths of officials at the meetings of the Arab League, but when action becomes necessary, the fire is still and quiet and steel and iron are rusted and twisted, quick to bend and disintegrate.”

For the Arab states, the fiery speeches do have a value of their own, cowing rivals and mobilising the masses to support their local dictator. But when the United States acts like a pitiful, helpless giant—even if it is a nice and friendly, apologetic one—the world shudders and shakes. The evil, with laughter; the good, with tears.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org


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The Nuclear Fuel Deal with Iran: Losing Sight of the Broader Picture?

Landau, Emily B. and Asculai, Ephraim

 INSS Insight No. 137, October 25, 2009

The emerging nuclear fuel deal between the US, Russia, France, and Iran – whether it is actually implemented or not – is shaping up as another point Iran has scored to fend off international efforts that would cease its uranium enrichment activities. Although this agreement would deplete the Iranian stocks of low enriched uranium (LEU), it would also provide Iran with fresh nuclear fuel for its nuclear research reactor. Moreover, Iran has made it absolutely clear that it has no intention of giving up either its present capabilities or its nuclear activities in Natanz, Arak, and any other facility it may have in return for this deal.

The facts are these: the Tehran Nuclear Research Center contains a small aging nuclear research reactor, fueled by 20 percent enriched uranium. This reactor is used for nuclear research, particularly the production of isotopes for medical and industrial uses. Yet despite being under IAEA safeguards, the reactor has also been used in the past for weapons-related research – the production of minute quantities of plutonium. The fuel for this reactor is running low, and Iran has been at a loss how to procure a fresh supply, doubting whether anyone would agree to re-supply Iran in light of the ongoing nuclear crisis. Several months ago Iran turned to the IAEA for help.

Advised of this situation, the US drafted and then discussed the contours of a deal with Russia, France, and Iran prior to the P5+1 meeting that convened on October 1, 2009 in Geneva. From the perspective of the P5+1, the express purpose of the meeting was to bring about the suspension of all uranium enrichment activities in Iran, to be followed by a solution to the broader issue of nuclear weapons development. During the meeting, however, the idea of Iran devoting a portion of its LEU in order to produce fuel for its reactor was discussed: namely, enriching Iran's existing LEU to 20 percent in Russia, and then producing the specialized fuel rods for the reactor in France. By doing so, Iran's stocks of LEU would be depleted by an estimated 75 percent. This would reduce the available stocks to much less than is needed for the production of one nuclear explosive device. The plan was greeted with great enthusiasm by the parties at the discussions, and in the follow up meetings in Vienna all efforts were devoted to drawing up a draft agreement that was then submitted to the concerned governments for approval.

Although not all details of the agreement are public, if Iran continues its uranium enrichment activities (as it avows it will), it would be able to replenish its LEU stocks in less than a year. It would be able to achieve the quantity needed for the further enrichment to one nuclear core within far less of that time, since it will have accumulated more than that quantity before the amount needed for the reactor fuel is actually shipped out (this would reportedly occur in mid-January 2010).

What then is the US trying to achieve with this deal? The deal will obviously not in itself stop Iran's nuclear program, and it even implicitly legitimizes Iran's uranium enrichment activities, because the subject of the deal is uranium that was enriched by Iran in direct violation of five UN Security Council Resolutions. Moreover, the deal was not conceived as part of a grand US strategy for dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions, but was rather the outgrowth of the specific Iranian request to the IAEA for more fuel for the Tehran reactor.

Thus the question remains what is President Obama's purpose. When Obama learned of Iran's request for more reactor fuel, he saw an opportunity to test Iranian intentions while significantly reducing Iran's stockpile of LEU. The idea of reducing the stockpile is in itself a positive move, but the measure was not devised with an eye to the larger goal of blocking Iran's attainment of a nuclear military capability. Herein lie the problems with the deal.

How can the proposed deal be a test of Iran's intentions? The logic is most likely that if Iran is willing to submit a good portion of its LEU stockpile for peaceful purposes, this indicates that its intentions are probably peaceful, or at least not immediately military. Conversely, if Iran does not agree to the deal, this provides a strong indication that its intentions are not entirely peaceful: namely, that it is saving the enriched uranium for something else.

This test, however, is flawed in two important respects. The first dimension goes to the terms of the test itself. Even if Iran ultimately agrees to the deal, this by no means "proves" that its intentions are peaceful, because it may calculate that it can replenish the stocks in Natanz relatively quickly and perhaps use other secret facilities for this purpose as well. Moreover, it is working on the plutonium route in Arak. Similarly, if Iran does not agree to the draft, this in itself would not be "proof" that its intentions are necessarily military.

The second flaw is the very need to test Iran's intentions. In fact, there are enough indications already that Iran's intentions are not peaceful. One needs to look no further than the IAEA itself – not at the positions of its director-general, ElBaradei, rather those of his deputy, Olli Heinonen. Heinonen indicated already in February 2008 that the IAEA possesses evidence that is not consistent with any explanation other than that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. The existence of the second enrichment plant at Qom also points in this direction.

As such, these tests of Iran's intentions add nothing, but more problematic, they can be dangerous. The so-called test of Iran's intentions has been framed in a manner that if this week Iran agrees to the deal – especially after saying that it needs more time once the US, Russia, and France have all agreed – the determination of the international community to confront it firmly will very likely decrease considerably. It will seem that Iran has "finally" chosen the route of cooperation, whereas in reality the specific deal that will have been secured does nothing more than (at best) delay Iran's plans.

The international community cannot afford to allow this deal to distract it from the broader goal that it has set for itself, which is to stop Iran from advancing toward nuclear weapons. If Iran accepts the deal, the challenge for the international community will be to continue negotiations while maintaining the same degree of determination as before the deal was secured. At the very least, it should consider postponing provision of reactor fuel to Iran until a more comprehensive deal with Iran – that addresses the real issues of concern – is carved out.

And if Iran rejects the deal, the international community will be left in an awkward position, but at least its determination to stop Iran will likely remain strong.

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