It may be early days in the hammering out of the details of a new US-sponsored plan to broker a resumption of Middle East peace talks, but what are clearly visible are the operating assumptions. At their very heart, the reporting in this paper suggests, is what the government of Binyamin Netanyahu has always wanted: a link between Iran's nuclear programme and a very partial freeze on settlement building, offered in exchange for opening up an even more partial track of a peace process whose focus would be on the West Bank.
A step forward? Hardly. For while one cannot deny that Israel is afraid of Iran, its overstated fears of the "existential threat" that the Islamic Republic poses serve a useful diplomatic purpose. That is to make Israeli-Palestinian peace talks contingent on progress in an unrelated and equally difficult issue. In that respect it is nothing less than a grand act of displacement that makes the prospect of a final settlement more distant still rather than hauling it closer.
The explicit linkage is, in any case, a dangerous gambit. The logic of tough sanctions against Iran's oil and gas industry under consideration, on which Tehran's economy depends, is dangerously close to an act of war in itself. An act of war, it should be said, that would be framed not only by the circumstances of Iran's intransigence over its nuclear ambitions (which make many neighbouring Arab states nervous) but by the demands of Israel, an entirely different circumstance. On the entirely practical front, regarding Iran, the factoring in of Israel's desires into a new round of sanctions hardly seems likely to persuade Iran's leaders to behave in a different fashion.
The truth is that Iran is for Israel - as for the rest of the region and the international community - a geopolitical challenge, not an "existential threat". What Israel's politicians and generals fear as much as the overstated threat of annihilation is a redrawing of the military balance that would undermine Israel's unique nuclear capability in the region, weakening its capacity for military deterrence, so long a bulwark of its foreign policy.
And it is not only in the regard of any linkage to Iran that the new assumptions appear deeply flawed.
Netanyahu, despite the claims of some, has yet to show himself as a partner for peace - the demand made so often of Palestinians by Israel. His marked ambivalence over a two-state solution is compounded by the fact that he has shown himself (like other Israeli leaders before him) to have little regard for either international opinions or the obligations that Israel has entered regarding settlement building, which was supposed to have been frozen with President George W Bush's road map and yet has continued unfettered.
Instead, the only concession that has been wrung out of Netanyahu appears to have been the promise of a partial and temporary freeze. His refusal to accept his obligations to a total cessation on building are instructive: not least because Netanyahu believes that President Bush gave Israel the green light to annexe some of the settlement blocks as part of a future land swap deal.
All that is on offer from Israel for now is a loosening of the strangulation imposed on the West Bank by Israeli checkpoints that had fragmented it into so many bantustans, whose gradual removal - unsurprisingly - has stimulated Palestinian economic growth once more. Far from moving forward, what is visible is a small step towards renormalising the lives of Palestinians from a low point, not improving them.
And what is glaring is what is hardly mentioned - the question of Hamas-run Gaza still under a crushing Israeli economic siege, except to deliver the somewhat distant promise to them that if Gaza's people divest themselves of the Islamist movement (who lest we forget won the 2006 Palestinian elections) then they might get some of what the West Bank is getting now. It is precisely this that Israel's ambassador to London, Ron Prosor - writing in the Telegraph without a hint of irony - sees fit to congratulate his country on. How Israel is helping the Palestinian Authority to strengthen the Palestinian infrastructure that - he forgets to mention - his country has done so much to dismantle.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by any of this. Netanyahu has been here before, managing Israel's position through a combination of dogged obstructionism - including his "three nos" - so that when he offers the slightest concession it is seized on by the international community as a leap forward. Netanyahu today seems to be replicating precisely his tactics during his previous period as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, going through the motions of talking yet delivering almost nothing.
And what appears to be driving the logic of this cynical deal-making in progress is fear. Not Israel's fear of Tehran - although that informs it - but rather the fear in Washington, London and elsewhere that Israel might pre-empt the imposition of a new economic sanctions regime by launching a unilateral attack on Iran. The reality then - unsurprisingly - is that once again it appears to be Israel that is dictating what is in Israel's and the region's interest, with the US foreign policy falling into step.
If all this is disappointing it is because it all seems so distant from the rhetoric of Barack Obama's speech in Cairo in June where he promised a new beginning to America's relationship with the Muslim world. Then Obama insisted that he believed that the situation for the "Palestinian people is intolerable", adding: "the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them - and all of us - to live up to our responsibilities." They are words that appear to have been forgotten in the anxiety to get a deal. Any deal. At any cost.
If these then are the assumptions driving forward the present attempt to wrestle out a new dialogue for peace, then the seeds of its failure have already been sown. For as Jonathan Freedland wrote here, the reason that "successive efforts at peace have failed" is because they "ducked the core, existential issues of 1948". His suggestion that what is required is more than a mechanistic formula of land swaps and compensation packages is right. But something more fundamental is required.
A truly honest and equitable approach - as suggested by Obama in Cairo - requires the abandonment of an unequal approach that for too long has allowed Israel a unique say in defining and redefining the contingent conditions for each step of progress. Depressingly the indications are that there is very little chance of that. And if that is true, Obama will have failed in the "responsibility" he set for himself.
Article Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/aug/27/obama-peace-plan-israel