JERUSALEM — The United States has formally denied for years that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is or should be connected to the campaign to stop a nuclear Iran, a concept known in diplomatic circles as “linkage.”
But a dramatic opening with Iran and a renewed peace process have made more explicit something people on both sides of the stalled talks here have long believed: That the two are intimately connected, and that any sense of momentum in here is with at least one eye, and sometimes a cynical one, on Tehran.
“We aren’t interested in making concessions in this peace process, and the sooner it ends the better,” one right-wing lawmaker told Buzzfeed after a lackluster parliamentary conference on peace last week. He asked to be quoted off-record as his party is part of the government, and therefore part of the peace process. “Since the US has disappointed us on Iran, we hope that at least in discussions on a peace deal with the Palestinians they will be more amenable to our position.”
Linking peace talks with Palestinians and talks with Iran to halt its nuclear program is hardly a new idea in Jerusalem. Both Israeli and Palestinian officials have long viewed the two as part of one long, fraught diplomatic process in the region in which the Obama administration has been heavily invested. And some here see an opportunity.
“If in the past the two issues have been engaged, by May they will be wedded,” said Shalom Yerushalmi, an Israeli columnist for the Maariv newspaper.
U.S. officials have tried to throw cold water on the idea that the two issues are connected. On Monday, U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel was forced to comment after a radio presenter told him most Israelis see the two issues as part and parcel of the same diplomacy.
“These two issues concern both Israel’s security and our security and the interests of all the Middle East, that it be a more quiet and stable region. But we do not see any linkage in which we seek to give on one issue and receive on the other,” Shapiro told Israel’s Army Radio.
But It’s not by chance that the deadline for the peace talks, and the end of the interim agreement on Iran both expire around early May, Israeli minister Tzipi Livni last week said.
During a speech at the parliament’s peace conference, she said that rather than complain about the interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, Israel could try to get a better deal by taking positive initiative during the peace talks.
“I suggest that we stop whining because of what was signed in Geneva and use the six months to make sure Iran doesn’t fool the world into enabling a final-status deal that would be dangerous for Israel, and to reach a significant breakthrough on two states for two peoples that will be good for Israel,” said Livni. “Continuing serious peace talks can allow the Arab world to put its conflict with Israel aside to cooperate on Iran. Solving the conflict with the Palestinians would enable a united front with Arab countries against Iran.”
Livni’s view, like that of many left-wing Israeli lawmakers, is that the attention on the region over the next five months could enable a breakthrough to be made on both peace talks with Palestinians, and Iran’s nuclear program.
The right in Israel, however, follows precisely the opposite line of thought. For them, the interim agreement on Iran was a betrayal by the US, one which makes it even less likely that Israel could — or should — make concessions towards peace with Palestinians.
“We are facing a lot of pressure from Washington. They want to ‘finish the conflict’ by May 2014,” said Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, said in an interview with Israel’s i24 television news last week. “It almost seems as if the US is putting more pressure on this [peace] issue than on the negotiations with Iran. We should not make the same past mistakes and do whatever out allies expect of us. We should not satisfy someone else, especially when the reality today is that there is no viable partner for peace.”
Right-wing lawmakers told Buzzfeed that the West, especially the US, was less likely to “make a fuss” if they advanced new settlement building, or pushed for other contentious plans over the next five months.
Israel’s Housing Minister Uri Ariel, has already published published housing tenders for over 20,000 new homes in the settlements, one of the largest settlement building projects of the last decade.
“We could not have dreamed of doing this a year ago or six months ago. But today, the US will not be able to object they would have before. Today, the US has to curry favor with us over Iran,” said one right-wing lawmaker, also from Ariel’s political party.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly lambasted the interim deal reached between the West and Iran last month, and has openly criticized President Barack Obama over the deal.
“Now Kerry has to say all the right things. That’s why he came to Israel and talked about security and that’s why he won’t make a big deal out of new settlements,” said the right-wing lawmaker.
Palestinians, meanwhile, have criticized the US for trying to force Palestinians to make concessions in peace talks in order to calm Israel’s fury over a potential compromise with Iran.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official told Voice of Palestine radio that US Secretary of State Kerry was seeking to “appease Israel.”
Rabbo said U.S. acquiescence to Israel’s security demands is aimed at “silencing the Israelis over the deal with Iran and achieving fake progress in the Palestinian-Israeli track at [Palestinian] expense.”
Palestinian officials said that on Monday, US officials asked Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to delay a planned release of Palestinian prisoners to give negotiations more time to make headway on Israel’s security concerns.
“We told them that we would not disappoint our people because Netanyahu had thrown a temper tantrum,” said one Palestinian official on the negotiation team. “If these peace talks don’t work, they don’t work. We won’t be a pacifier for Israel.”