When Benjamin Netanyahu Spoke to Congress

Last week, international monitors determined that Iran has enriched uranium to 84 percent—far beyond the level needed for any civilian activity, and just below the 90 percent necessary for building nuclear weapons. The news justifies the fears expressed by Benjamin Netanyahu eight years ago, when he gave his then-controversial address to a joint session of Congress, warning against the deal the Obama administration was on its way to concluding with Tehran. Looking back on the episode, Rick Richman writes:

The [agreement with Tehran] resulted in significant part from the fear that, as Iran’s nuclear program proceeded during the first four years of the Obama administration and Iran refused to negotiate, Israel was preparing to attack. . . . In his memoir, Netanyahu writes that [then-President Barack] “Obama waged a relentless campaign against the possibility of an independent Israeli attack.” Netanyahu relays that Obama “assured me he was building a military capacity and that it should be given a chance to work.” The former secretary of defense Leon Panetta later said that one of his most important jobs in 2011–13 had been keeping Israel from attacking. He did so in significant part by assuring Netanyahu and [his then-defense minister Ehud] Barak that President Obama was serious about taking military action, if it proved necessary. Netanyahu repeatedly postponed a plan to strike, unable to secure approval of his security cabinet given both the numerous risks and the American assurances.

In 2012, the U.S. began secret negotiations with Iran without informing Israel. When Israel discovered them, the Obama administration promised that: (i) any sanctions relief would be phased in; (ii) sanctions would be dismantled only when Iran’s nuclear program was dismantled; (iii) there would be “anytime, anywhere” inspections; and (iv) Iran would have to answer the long-standing questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about its nuclear program.

In early 2013, the United States and its negotiating partners (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) offered Iran a deal—one that incorporated none of the assurances to Israel.

In December 2022, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) issued an authoritative analysis, titled “Iran Building Nuclear Weapons.” . . . It effectively confirmed what Netanyahu had told Congress in 2015 was the essence of the impending [agreement].

Read more at Commentary

More about: Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, Iran nuclear deal

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood