Impact of the Iranian elections in the Middle East

Press review – Week from June 15 to 19, 2009

After President Obama’s speech in Cairo presenting the new U.S. policy in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered last Sunday at Bar Ilan University a speech on the Israeli intentions in the region, provoking mitigated international reactions. But this speech took place in a particular context: the Iranian elections were just officially won by Ahmadinejad, who does not hide his desire to see Israel disappear. At the time when B. Obama wanted to improve relations with Iran and convince Israel to adopt a more moderate stance, the Iranian issue may influence the Western attitude to the Middle-East.

B. Netanyahu’s speech

For the Israeli daily Haaretz, B. Netanyahu’s speech which has been delivered under the U.S. pressure brought nothing new. The conditions that the Prime Minister has required from the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations and confirm the possibility of a Palestinian State are the recognition of the Jewish character of Israel, the acceptance that a future Palestinian State would be demilitarized, with no return of 1948 refugees and that Jerusalem would be an undivided capital. The daily believes that a non-aggression pact between Israel and Palestine should be signed before a Palestinian demilitarization. However, for Haaretzneither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are now ready to negotiate, trapped in a tension mechanism and the Prime Minister did not « courageously and honestly » speak as he had promised, particularly on the topic of settlements, which he still refuses to freeze. ToHaaretz, Netanyahu should have spoken to the Israelis as to adults, explaining to the settlers that the settlements are an obstacle to the peace process, explaining what the Arab peace plan proposes and what Israel is prepared to accept or not. Rather than emphasize on the promises the Palestinians must do, he could have mentioned which risks Israelis ready to take for peace. But motivation for peace is lacking.
Reactions and consequences

The European Union has reacted by welcoming the step embodied by the acceptance by B. Netanyahu of a possible future Palestinian State even if the EU considered this step as not sufficient, according to La Libre Belgique. Indeed, the European diplomats regret that the Prime Minister refuses to freeze settlements and call for negotiations on this matter as well as on the status of Jerusalem. Meeting in Luxembourg, the heads of diplomacy of the Twenty-seven have refused to resume the process of deepening relations between the EU and Israel in these conditions.

“I can only welcome the prospect of a Palestinian state charted by the new Israeli prime minister, said Bernard Kouchner, the head of French diplomacy. France is convinced that [the establishment] is the interest of Israel and its security » reported France 24.
On the Palestinian side, the conditions imposed by the Israeli Prime minister to create a Palestinian state are considered as unacceptable. « The words of Benjamin Netanyahu have undermined all initiatives, paralyzed all the efforts and challenged Palestinian, Arab and American positions » said Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

« This is a total refusal to resume serious negotiations, regrets Nassif Hitti, representing the Arab League in France. The definition of a Palestinian state by Benjamin Netanyahu does not meet any criterion of the sovereign state, it is an empty shell « , reports France 24.

In Le Figaro, Hamas has denounced the « racist and extremist ideology » of Israeli Prime Minister. « It proposes a (Palestinian) state without identity or sovereignty or Jerusalem or the right to return, no army, no weapons and insists on maintaining the settlements, » said the spokesman of the Islamist movement, Fawzi Barhoum.

The New York Times highlights the acceptance by the Israeli Prime Minister to consider a future Palestinian State thanks to the American pressure while he had refused to consider it so far. However, the American daily recognizes the failure of the United States to make Israel freeze settlements. The NY Times points out that this speech occurs just after the clear rejection of settlements by B. Obama, Israel openly resisting the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the White House welcomed « this step toward peace » despite the limited space that Netanyahu left for compromise since he did not mention plans for the ongoing peace or the geographical area that a future Palestinian state would cover, he denied the right of Palestinians to return, considered Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without mentioning a compromise. For Saed Erekat, Palestinian negotiator, B. Netanyahu does not accept a Palestinian state because he imposes conditions unattainable for its creation.

In in blog « Nouvelle d’Orient », the journalist of Le Monde Diplomatique, Alain Gresh describes the speech of B. Netanyahu as a « non-event », an “empty” speech, which « rejects any serious discussion on peace. » According to the journalist, B. Netanyahu knows that the conditions he offers are unacceptable. For the Prime Minister, the roots of the conflict are based on the Arab refusal to recognize « the right of the Jewish people to a State in its historic homeland. » As for the western reactions A. Gresh asks: « President Obama said that these proposals were » a step forward” but a step towards what?  »

The Palestinian News Network (PNN) said that Netanyahu has tried to imitate the speech of Obama in Cairo offering internet base for his speech and speaking in a university. However, for PNN, Netanyahu is not Obama and his speech did not show « the depth, sincerity and empathy » of the presidential speech. Netanyahu’s speech was clearly pronounced in response to a U.S. demand and not to assure the Arab world of his commitment to peace. Furthermore, the journalist believes that this discourse may be welcomed by Jordan, which feared the establishment of a Palestinian State in Jordan.

The Jordan Times deals with the visit of the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Washington. The Minister told the press that he did not intend to change « the demographic balance in the West Bank » but we could not freeze settlements where « babies are born, people get married or die. » « Our approach on this issue is clear and we had some understandings with the previous U.S. administration » said Lieberman, despite the reiteration of the Secretary of State H. Clinton’s refusal of the Israeli settlements.

The Iranian elections: a stop to the new U.S. policy?

Second rather negative response to B. Obama’s speech to the Muslim world: the Iranian elections, officially won by Ahmadinejad while the West was expecting a new and more moderate Iranian government. Announced as a « blow » to the White House, these elections could have an impact on the new Middle Eastern policy of Obama, wonder the media. For Le Figaro, this result may in fact modify the balance in the region since Israel already highlighted that this election confirmed the need to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons and reiterated the urgency of sanctions against Tehran.

This new situation occurs when Americans and Europeans have decided to take a turning point in their foreign policy, the United States and Europe wanting to be firmer towards their Israeli ally, calling for the freeze of settlements and refusing the deepening of the EU-Israel. In addition, the European Union has shown a notable reversal via the meeting of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs with Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan in Lebanon.

« Hezbollah is part of Lebanese society. It is represented in Parliament and will have responsibilities » said to AFP Javier Solana. Mr. Hajj Hassan considered that « this meeting was an expression of a higher level of openness from the part of the EU towards Hezbollah », arguing that with this meeting, the EU adopted a « more realistic » attitude towards Lebanon.