Saturday, 3 December 2011

Leon Panetta on Israel and Iran

If I was an American and was active in politics, I think I'd be a Clinton Democrat. I still strongly admire President Clinton and his steadfast, near-miss attempts to broker an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal. Leon Panetta, who was Clinton's Chief of Staff and who is now President Obama's Defense Secretary, made this fascinating speech yesterday: http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4937. If you want to know what the grown-ups are saying about Israel and Iran, then read this speech and read it carefully, including the Q&A at the end.

The BBC's reporting of the speech has focused on Mr Panetta's call for Israel to mend fences with Egypt and Turkey. Is that the most interesting bit of this speech? I would argue not. Read the whole thing. It's not very long. I was struck also by Mr Panetta saying that Israel and the Palestinians should:

"Just get to the damn table.  Just get to the table.  The problem right now is we can't get them to the damn table to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences – you know, we all know what the pieces are here for a potential agreement.  We've talked it out, worked through, we understand the concerns, we understand the concerns of Israel, understand the concerns of the Palestinians.  If they sit at a table and work through those concerns, and the United States can be of assistance in that process, then I think you have the beginning of what could be a process that would lead to a peace agreement.  

"But if they aren't there – if they aren't at the table, this will never happen.  So first and foremost, get to the damn table."

I could point out that Israel keeps saying that it wants immediate direct talks with the Palestinians. Israel is arguably already at the table, looking at its watch and eating a bread stick while the waitress hovers with a menu.

The Palestinians say they won't come unless Israel resumes a 'settlement freeze' (even though when there WAS a settlement freeze, the Palestinians still refused to come to talks for most of the time that the freeze was on, even though that was supposedly their condition for coming. It's like if you invited me to dinner, and I said I'd come if you don't mind meeting me in Finchley, and you said yes you'd come to Finchley, and I said I still wasn't coming, even though you'd agreed to what I'd asked. So you then forget about Finchley and ask me if I will just please come to dinner anyway as we need to talk, and I say 'only if we can meet in Finchley' and we repeat the whole cycle and never get to dinner).

If you were the Palestinian President, would you not go into talks and discuss settlements there, instead of using settlements as an excuse for not talking?

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