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Putting Peace in Double Jeopardy

US-Iran and Israel-Palestinian peace efforts are jeopardized by AIPAC-inspired senators or by Israel itself.

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Negotiations with Iran are at a critical stage, as are the US-brokered peace talks with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Yet both peace efforts are jeopardized by AIPAC-inspired senators or by Israel itself.

Recent actions by AIPAC-inspired US senators and by the Netanyahu government jeopardize Middle East peace in Iran and occupied Palestine. Enactment of a new sanctions bill likely would derail negotiations with Iran and put a war option back on the table. At the same time, Israeli settlement expansion threatens the American-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Together, such actions expose Israel’s dual intentions: to bomb Iran and to provoke the Palestinians (in both West Bank and Gaza). Another intifada could be seen as an excuse to justify an overwhelming response – such as the Operation Cast Lead war on Gaza in 2008-09.

Notwithstanding the conclusion of a historic “win-win” interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, allies of the Netanyahu government in Congress would impose deal-breaking new sanctions, such as zero enrichment and a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities – in disregard of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Article IV recognizes the “inalienable right of all Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. … “

That the Israeli government, through its AIPAC lobbying arm, is behind the sanctions effort may be seen in the Senate bill’s provision that would commit the United States to provide “diplomatic, military and economic support” to Israel if it decided to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Are Americans ready for another Middle East war?

The original sanctions, imposed to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, succeeded. Remarkably, the parties have overcome the opposition of hard-line critics in both countries. The temporary agreement halts Iran’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for minor sanctions relief. The permanent agreement now being negotiated presents an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. That opportunity will be lost if Senate Bill 1881 passes and Congress overrides an Obama veto.

Why would anyone want to risk a breakdown in talks while they are on track for a peaceful resolution? Only if they prefer war (or an excuse for attacking Iran’s nuclear plants).

Reports in last week’s New York Times, exposed Israel’s true intentions regarding its ongoing negotiations with the Palestinians. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon reportedly “voiced deep skepticism” and “spared no harsh words” about Secretary of State John Kerry and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Revealing Israel’s underlying reluctance to conclude an agreement, he was quoted as saying: “The only thing that might save us is if John Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us be.” Other Israeli high officials criticized the tone of Yaalon’s remarks but not their substance. Israel’s only concern seems to be not “comprising relations with our best friend.”

More expressive of Israel’s lukewarm commitment to peace talks with the Palestinian Authority is its recent decision to expand settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. As stated in a recent report of the Council on European Palestinian Relations, “Israeli settlements are illegal according to every basic reading of international law.” The Hague Convention (Article 46) prohibits confiscation of private property in occupied territory. The Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49) stipulates that “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Furthermore, the settlements have been condemned as illegal by both Security Council Resolutions 446 (1979) and 465 (1980) and by the World Court (2004). This month the largest Dutch pension fund company, PGGM, announced its withdrawal of all its investment from the five largest Israeli banks that finance settlement construction in the West Bank.

In response to EU criticism and ignoring the blatant illegality of the settlements, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week took “the unusual step” of summoning ambassadors from Britain, France, Italy and Spain to counter-protest the European protests.

Meanwhile, a headline in The Times of Israel on January 9 read, “Kerry threatens to cut PA aid if no peace deal is signed.” Despite Israel’s seeming indifference to a negotiation apparently begun only to please the Americans, we’ve seen no evidence of similar pressure on an Israeli government that receives more than $3 billion a year in military assistance.

If peace is to be achieved with Iran on the nuclear issue, harsh sanctions must not be imposed during the negotiations. To convince Congress not to pass SB1881 likely will require citizen calls to the offices of the senators on the scale that stopped a planned US attack on Syria last fall. If the Israeli-Palestinian talks are to succeed, the US government should withhold economic and military aid until Israel revokes its settlements policy.

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