No Olive Branch From Netanyahu for Iran; a Small Twig for Peace with Palestinians

Seeking to discourage a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel threatened military action against Iran and dared others to do the same.

"Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly. "If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone. Yet in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others."

Gone were the Israeli leader's usual witty comments - although he is always an interesting orator. And gone was any new commitment or analysis of peace with the Palestinians.

Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, he said, had a history of supporting the same policies as other presidents since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Comparing Rouhani to his predecessor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Netanyahu said:

"The only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing. Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community."

Specifically, Netanyahu, the last speaker at this year's gathering of world leaders, said that Iran did not have a nuclear weapon yet but was putting all the instruments in place so it could produce one quickly. He said Iran had to allow U.N. inspectors into its most secret facilities and stop uranium enrichment, even at a low level. He also asked why an oil rich country needed to spend billions on a nuclear reactor.

Dismantle infrastructure
Netanyahu said American and Europeans negotiators should insist on the removal of stockpiles of enriched uranium from Iran. He called for a dismantling of the infrastructure for a weapons program and a stoppage of all work on a heavy water reactor.

The Israeli leader was responding to a diplomatic opening between the United States and Iran that included a phone conversation between President Obama and Rouhani, the first in decades. But Obama, meeting Netanyahu in Washington on Monday said no options were off the table, including military action.

Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers have set up meetings with Iranian officials, including its sophisticated foreign minister, Javad Zarif, on Tehran's nuclear program.

Richard Haas, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said both sides have reasons to hurry.

"The new Iranian leaders worry that time is against them. They fear that conservatives defeated in the June elections will rally, while the public will grow impatient if the sanctions-battered economy does not improve," he said.

And "Americans worry Iran is using time to get closer to creating an infrastructure able to produce fissile material, weaponize it and put warheads on missiles."

Iran reacts
Iran says the program is for peaceful energy purposes only. In response to Netanyahu's speech, an Iranian diplomat, Khodadad Seifi, warned that "the Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that."

"Iran's centuries-old policy of nonaggression must not be interpreted as its inability to defend itself," said Seifi.

Iran's delegation boycotted the speech as Israeli diplomats did when Rouhani spoke a week ago. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador, and Rosemary DiCarlo, the deputy U.S. ambassador, were in the Assembly hall.

In Netanyahu's six page text, the Palestinian peace process was relegated to four paragraphs on page 5.

He said his country was prepared to make a "historic compromise." Peace, he said, should be based on security, mutual recognition and a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state of Israel.

Two minutes on Palestinians
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a liberal American-Jewish lobbying group, said Netanyahu missed an opportunity for a vision of peace with the Palestinians, devoting less than two minutes to the issue in a 33-minute address.

"It was as if he wanted to send a message that peace was not a high priority for him and that it barely warranted his attention," Ben-Ami said, adding:

"The Prime Minister has every right to state his determination to defend his country and his people against external threats -- but I wish he had been more inspiring and open-hearted about the promise of a better future with the Palestinians, especially now with serious negotiations underway."

Alan Elsner, J Street's vice-president for communications, wrote in these pages that everyone was for a two-state solution but few were willing to talk about what that would entail.

Tough decisions
"We can't support the two-state solution and call those pre-67 borders indefensible or be unwilling to talk about evacuating settlements and relocating settlers who are currently beyond the eventual border of the state of Israel," Elsner said.

"And, similarly, Palestinians cannot support the two-state solution and be unwilling to acknowledge that those refugees from 1948 still alive and their millions of descendants will not be returning to the state of Israel. Yes, their rights will have to be addressed, but through an agreement that provides compensation and assistance in resettling permanently elsewhere."

The fear was that hardliners on both sides would back away from tough decisions and mount campaigns to make it more difficult for their leaders to negotiate.

Peace, as he says, is hard. So is a future relationship with Iran. If Obama does not pursue the diplomatic route, the military option may be the only one left.

But one need not depend on the dysfunctional U.S. Congress to help or make sensible decisions on either. Maybe when pigs fly.