Israel/Palestine for Iran Swap?
A couple days after Israeli papers reported that Benjamin Netanyahu was stiffing Barack Obama and his plans for Middle East peace, the Guardian says that all sides have reacheda tentative agreement:
Barack Obama is close to brokering an Israeli-Palestinian deal that will allow him to announce a resumption of the long-stalled Middle East peace talks before the end of next month, according to US, Israeli, Palestinian and European officials.
Key to bringing Israel on board is a promise by the US to adopt a much tougher line with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons programme. The US, along with Britain and France, is planning to push the United Nations security council to expand sanctions to include Iran's oil and gas industry, a move that could cripple its economy.
In return, the Israeli government will be expected to agree to a partial freeze on the construction of settlements in the Middle East. In the words of one official close to the negotiations: "The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not."
I guess it matters which reporting you believe. Russia and particularly China seem to be missing in the Guardian's report about a tough line with Iran, and they both have veto power in the UN Security Council. Juan Cole doubts its effectiveness, and thinks the Likudniks will wriggle off the hook of whatever they agreed to during peace talks. Even in the report, they are only agreeing to a "partial" settlement freeze.
What could have a bigger impact is the news that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad plans to build the infrastructure for a separate state.
The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, unveiled a government program on Tuesday to build the apparatus of a Palestinian state within two years, regardless of progress in the stalled peace negotiations with Israel.
The plan, the first of its kind from the Palestinian Authority, sets out national goals and priorities and operational instructions for ministries and official bodies. Mr. Fayyad said it was meant to hasten the end of the Israeli occupation and pave the way to independent statehood, which he said “can and must happen within the next two years.”
There was no immediate official Israeli comment, with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Europe. But two Israeli officials reacted with consternation over what they saw as a unilateral action. The United States consul general in Jerusalem expressed approval for the plan.
The two-year timetable matches Obama's stated two-year timetable for peace negotiations in the Guardian article. I would assume that there is some back-channel encouragement of Palestinian state planning and a means to goose peace talks.
I really don't need another American President getting belligerent about Iran, especially when, the last I heard, the Islamic Republic was offering to talk. But the gears of Middle East peace, stalled throughout pretty much the entire Bush era, seem to be moving again.