Tuesday, February 09, 2021

  • Tuesday, February 09, 2021
  • Elder of Ziyon

Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a wide ranging interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN yesterday. Blitzer touched on every issue that is important to Israel, and Blinken's answers were mostly encouraging - within the framework of the conventional wisdom of the Democratic party. 

The problem is the framework itself.

QUESTION: A State Department spokesperson has given the Trump administration credit for what’s called the Abraham Accords, the normalization deals that Israel worked on thanks to the Trump administration, with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, but at the same time you’re saying it can’t be a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace.  So how exactly are you going to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, Wolf, yes, we applauded the Abraham Accords.  This is an important step forward.  Whenever we see Israel and its neighbors normalizing relations, improving relations, that’s good for Israel, it’s good for the other countries in question, it’s good for overall peace and security, and I think it offers new prospects to people throughout the region through travel, through trade, through other work that they can do together to actually materially improve their lives.  So that’s a good thing.  But as you said rightly, that doesn’t mean that the challenges of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians go away.  They don’t.  They’re still there.  They’re not going to miraculously disappear.  And so we need to engage on that.  But in the first instance, the parties in question need to engage on that.

Look, the hard truth is we are a long way I think from seeing peace break out and seeing a final resolution of the problems between Israel and the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state.  In the first instance now, it’s do no harm.  We’re looking to make sure that neither side takes unilateral actions that make the prospects for moving toward peace and a resolution even more challenging than they already are.  And then hopefully we’ll see both sides take steps that create a better environment in which actual negotiations can take place.
The State Department is leaning back towards the failed idea that Israel/Palestinian peace is the most important concept. The Abraham Accords destroyed that paradigm - the old thinking said that peace with the Arab world was linked to peace with Palestinians, the "linkage" myth, and the Accords shows that this isn't true. By definition, peace between Israel and Palestinians has been shown to be less important.

Blinken now sees no relationship between Israeli-Arab peace and Israeli-Palestinian peace. But that's not true either. Palestinian intransigence is fueled by their conviction that world pressure will bring Israel to its knees, and now that Trump is gone they are waiting for the Biden administration to pressure Israel like Obama did, and for it to partner with Western European states to push the Palestinian demands - 1967 "borders" being only the first demand. 

When Blinken says that neither side should take unilateral actions against peace, he is almost certainly not talking about Palestinian land grabs that happen every day - only Israel asserting its rights in Judea and Samaria. It is a troubling reversion to old thinking.

QUESTION:  I know that you, the Biden administration still supports what’s called a two-state solution —


QUESTION:  — Israel, a new state of Palestine.  But I understand that President Biden still hasn’t even spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu; is that right?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, they spoke actually during the transition.  I think one of the first calls that the President had was with the prime minister.  I’ve talked to my Israeli counterparts on multiple occasions already.  And you’re exactly right about the two-state solution:  The President strongly supports it.  It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and the only way to give the Palestinians a state to which they’re entitled.

QUESTION:  But is there a reason as President he still hasn’t spoken with Netanyahu?  He’s spoken with so many other world leaders.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, I’m sure that they’ll have occasion to speak in the near future.
Some think that the symbolism of Biden not calling Netanyahu is important. I don't. Unless he calls Abbas first, this is not something to waste time on.

QUESTION:  Anxious to get your yes or no on some specifics, very sensitive issues.  You’ve said the United States will keep the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.  It used to be in Tel Aviv.  Do you regard Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I do, yes.  And more importantly, we do.

QUESTION:  As part of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, would you support a Palestine having its capital in East Jerusalem?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, the – what we have to see happen is for the parties to get together directly and negotiate these so-called final status issues.  That’s the objective.  And as I said, we’re unfortunately a ways away from that at this point in time.
This is the correct answer. The Europeans also say they don't want unilateral moves  - and then they unilaterally say what the final agreement should look like. Trump destroyed the lie that Israel's capital is not Jerusalem and Biden is not going to go back to the fiction that every previous administration had that Jerusalem would become an international city.

QUESTION:  The Trump administration, as you know, also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria back in 1967.  Will your administration, the Biden administration, continue to see the Golan Heights as part of Israel?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, leaving aside the legalities of that question, as a practical matter, the Golan is very important to Israel’s security.  As long as Assad is in power in Syria, as long as Iran is present in Syria, militia groups backed by Iran, the Assad regime itself – all of these pose a significant security threat to Israel, and as a practical matter, the control of the Golan in that situation I think remains of real importance to Israel’s security.  Legal questions are something else.  And over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at.  But we are nowhere near as that.
Here's another example of using the wrong framework. The Biden administration is not going to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan, but they will not prioritize Israel giving the strategic area back to Syria. But this is problematic.

Blinken claims that human rights is now a centerpiece of foreign policy. This statement undermines the human rights of the Arabs who live in the Golan. As long as they are concerned that they could revert to living under Syrian rule, they are not free. They are worried about being executed as traitors or spies under Syrian rule. They will remain in this limbo until the world recognizes that Israel's control of the Golan is not only legal but just.

Of course, all of this is trivial next to the question of Iran.

QUESTION:  You’re facing a stalemate apparently when it comes to Iran, the Iran nuclear deal.  Iran’s ayatollah says the U.S. needs to lift sanctions before it returns to the deal.  President Biden says he won’t lift sanctions first.  So what happens now?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, the President’s been very clear about this.  If Iran returns to compliance with its obligations under the nuclear agreement, we would do the same thing, and then we would work with our allies and partners to try to build a longer and stronger agreement, and also bring in some of these other issues, like Iran’s missile program, like its destabilizing actions in the region that need to be addressed as well.

The problem we face now, Wolf, is that in recent months Iran has lifted one restraint after another that was – they were being held in check by the agreement.  We got out of the agreement, Iran started to lift the various restraints in the agreement, and the result is they are closer than they’ve been to having the capacity on short order to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon.  The agreement had pushed that past a year.  According to public reports now, it’s down to three or four months and heading in the wrong direction.

So the first thing that’s so critical is for Iran to come back into compliance with its obligations.  They’re a ways from that.  But if they do that, the path of diplomacy is there, and we’re willing to walk it.

QUESTION:  So they’ve got to take the first step, and then the U.S. will respond.  Is that right?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s – the President’s been clear about that.  They need to come back to compliance, and if they do, we will look to do the same thing.
This is much, much better than Biden's campaign promises to return to the JCPOA. But it is not nearly enough.

The Biden administration needs to enroll the European signatories to the JCPOA to do their job. They haven't left the agreement that Iran is proudly violating. They have not invoked the sanctions that were supposed to be automatic with Iranian violations. Their cringing acceptance of Iranian violations is the reason Iran feels that it has the upper hand.

The West needs to renegotiate the Iran agreement from a position of strength. That means getting the western Europeans on board and having a united front on sanctioning Iran for its violations. 

The US is now saying the right things but it sure looks like one day soon Iran and the US will announce the simultaneous removal of sanctions and the US returning to negotiate what would be an identical agreement with Iran that Obama did - and then gaslighting Americans into believing that it is an ironclad agreement that stops Iranian nuclear weapons development. 

Also, while it is hard to prove 100%, Iran's cash crunch has hurt Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups. Lifting sanctions without addressing those issues, and others like Iranian development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, is the opposite of promoting peace.

The old frameworks about Iran and the Middle East kept peace further away. The return to the failed frameworks is the real danger, and saying the right things in the wrong framework is putting lipstick on a pig.


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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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