Posted by on March 06, 2012 in Blog

By Jeffrey Wright

2012 Spring Intern

The annual convention of pro-Israel activists convened by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has dominated the news out of Washington this week. The group’s annual gala on Monday night featured speeches by political elites from both Israel and the U.S., culminating in an address by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Much like the conference itself, Netanyahu focused on Iran and its nuclear program, never mentioning the Palestinians once. The only section of the speech that vaguely related to the Palestinians was in Netanyahu’s opening lines, noting that the audience’s applause could be heard as far away as Jerusalem, which Bibi called “the eternal, united capital of Israel.” Though such language is not new for Netanyahu, the international community (including the United States) does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. For any two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians to be viable, East Jerusalem would certainly have to be the capital of a future Palestinian state; though Israel’s continuing efforts to change the demographic character of the city are moving things in the wrong direction.

Much of the content of Bibi’s speech was predictable. Netanyahu ridiculed those who question his premise that the Iranian nuclear program is intended to produce a nuclear weapon, saying “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is it? That's right, it's a duck.” It should be noted that the American intelligence community is among those questioning the nature of Netanyahu’s metaphorical duck. The 2011 revision of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, a compilation of the views of various American intelligence agencies, concluded that Iranian officials had not yet determined whether to pursue a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu also went after those who argue that a nuclear-armed Iran could be contained. He praised President Obama’s declaration that containing a nuclear Iran would not be the policy of the United States, saying “...containment is definitely not an option.” Though he did not explicitly reference the differences between his own policies and those of President Obama, he described the main instruments of the Administration’s policy, diplomacy and sanctions, as having failed. “Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.” This line, essentially declaring himself impatient with the Obama administration’s policy, drew some of the biggest applause of the evening.

Overall, Netanyahu’s speech sounded like that of a man eager for confrontation. The sanctions regime, which he has already pronounced a failure, has had only a few months to work. Arguably more important sanctions by the European Union, which target Iran’s vital oil exports, will not take effect until July. There are important signs that the pressure is having an effect on the Iranian regime, including seemingly compelling it to return to talks with the international community over its nuclear program. Such factors indicate that more time is needed to allow diplomacy and sanctions to have an effect on the Iranian leadership. Unfortunately, Netanyahu seems to have skipped that step, allegedly keeping war as a “last resort” while he rules out all others. President Obama, speaking on the same stage a few days earlier, correctly said that there was “...too much loose talk of war...” with Iran. Unfortunately, much of that loose talk is coming from the Prime Minister of Israel.

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