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The Obama-Netanyahu Meeting By: Alan M. Dershowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Although President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu got along quite well at their White House meeting, each has made demands that the other seems unwilling or unable to meet.  Peace seems no closer, even after the warm encounter. 


The 800 pound gorilla at the Oval Office meeting was Iran’s nuclear program.  That became self-evidently clear when, within days of the meeting, Iran deliberately fired a solid fuel rocket and challenged the United States and Israel to do something about it.  Ahmadinejad linked the rocket-launching to Iran’s nuclear program, as if to allay any doubts that Iran intends to place nuclear payloads on these hard-to-detect rockets. 


An Iran protected by a nuclear umbrella will be free to encourage its surrogates, Hamas and Hezbollah, to increase the frequency and range of their rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.  Even if Iran never tries to drop a nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv or smuggle nuclear material to terrorist groups, it can endanger Israel’s existence by making large parts of the Jewish state uninhabitable because of conventional anti-personnel rocket attacks.


In order for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, Iran must be defanged.  No Israeli Prime Minister can repeat the mistake that Ariel Sharon made when—in good faith—he unilaterally evacuated the Gaza Strip. Instead of land for peace, what the Israelis got was land for rocket launchings, which continue to this day.  The same trade off occurred when Israel ended its military occupation of Southern Lebanon.  The difference is that an unoccupied West Bank would put Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ben Gurion airport well within range of rockets supplied by Iran to Hamas and other terrorist groups. 


President Obama sees “a linkage” between Israel ending the settlements and the United States trying to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.  Following the Oval Office meeting, he insisted that peace between Israel and the Palestinians “strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat.”  With due respect to the man who I supported for President, he has it exactly backwards.  If there is to be any linkage—and I do not believe there should be—it goes the other way:  it will be much easier for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank if Iran does not have a nuclear umbrella under which it can continue to encourage Hamas and Hezbollah to fire rockets at Israeli civilians. 


That is why the Middle East peace process has become so intractable.  President Obama seems unwilling to guarantee Israel that Iran will not be permitted to develop nuclear weapons.  Without such a guarantee, Netanyahu is unable to end the occupation, because Israel is a democracy and the people of Israel will not accept a repeat of Gaza and Southern Lebanon, this time with nuclear threat hanging over them. 


In the meantime, Israel is seeking to break the deadline by offering to open unconditional peace talks with Syria.  This would send a powerful message to the Palestinians, namely that Israel can continue to make peace with its neighbors even if the Palestinians continue to reject reasonable peace offers, as they did in 2000 and 2001. 


So the ball is very much in Barack Obama’s court, unless he can provide Israel a guarantee that they will never face a nuclear Iran, all that Israel will be able to do is end some illegal settlements, avoid any expansion of existing settlements and generally take some cosmetic steps—steps that Israel should take even though they will never satisfy the Palestinians. 


Israel of course is not the only Mid East country that needs a guarantee against a nuclear Iran.  If Iran develops the capability to produce nuclear weapons, other Mid East countries will enter the nuclear arms race.  With Pakistan’s nuclear weapons already at risk of being controlled by suicidally radical elements, this will escalate the Middle East conflict dramatically. 


Barack Obama is a man of peace and negotiations.  The extreme left wing of his party demands peace at any price, including a nuclear Iran.  President Obama must step up to the plate and make the difficult decision to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from securing nuclear weapons, even if that means exercising the military option as a last resort.  Sometimes it takes the use of military force to avoid even greater military dangers.  Winston Churchill understood that in the 1930s.  Neville Chamberlain did not.


I hope that Barack Obama will be remembered by history more in the image of Churchill than Chamberlain.  Obama’s predecessor waged the wrong war.  Iraq posed no real threat to world peace.  Iran does.  I hope President Obama will not refrain from doing whatever it takes to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.  If he does, he will go a long way toward finally resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bringing peace to the Middle East. 

Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, “The Case Against Israel’s Enemies.”

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