The US Senate reconvened on Monday following its Easter holiday recess, and members of the Foreign Relations Committee immediately began intense negotiations over the formulation of the bill that will accompany the nuclear agreement with Iran.
The Republicans wanted a law that would give the Senate the power to ratify or reject the deal. President Barack Obama threatened
to exercise his veto right over any such bill. Emissaries of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the committee members to insist that the bill include two demands that were not included in the deal – recognition of Israel on
the part of the Iranian government, and a promise from Tehran to end its support of terrorist organizations.
Netanyahu's speech to Congress (Photo: AFP)
To the surprise of many, an agreement was reached within a day. Both sides contributed to the compromise: Obama lifted his veto threat and agreed to allow the Senate to oversee the process with Iran; and the Republican majority in the Senate retracted its demand that the framework deal be approved by the Senate and agreed to wait until the end of June, when the Iranians are due to sign the final agreement. The two Israeli demands vanished into thin air. I'll get back to them in a moment – and to the bitter smile they brought to Obama's face.
From a practical point of view, the compromise in the Senate gives US Secretary of State John Kerry and
his team a first-class ticket to Lausanne: The Senate won't bother them again until the end of June, and it won't trouble the Iranians at all. If the negotiations end in failure, the Senate will no longer be relevant; if, on the other hand, an agreement is reached, it will be discussed in Washington once China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany put pen to paper and promise to lift the sanctions. The rest of the world will follow suit. With or without the US Senate, the horses will bolt the stables.
John Kerry (Photo: AFP)
The fate of the Iranian nuclear program now rests with the ayatollahs – and them alone. Iran's status as a nuclear threshold nation has been recognized by the international community – including the United States.
Israel took a major blow, of historic proportions. Jerusalem's huge public relations drive came to naught. Governments weren't the only ones that brushed us aside; Israel's closest friends on Capitol Hill, those who represent constituencies with large Jewish populations and who enjoy the support of Jewish billionaires, are now doing the same. At this point in time, a responsible government would stop and rethink its course of action.
A new course of action must start with the Obama administration. Officials in Washington understand what the nuclear deal with Iran means to America's allies in the Middle East – and Israel first and foremost. They are looking for a way to balance it, to compensate America's allies and to limit the damage. Obama is willing to go far on this issue – much further than his predecessors ever did.
But Netanyahu has his own agenda: Judging by his speeches over the past few days, he appears to believe that everything is still open to change, that the members of Congress are still sitting in the auditorium and applauding him. He's like Emperor Nero, who played on his fiddle while Rome burned.
"Even if we are forced to stand alone, our hearts will not be fearful," Netanyahu declared in his Holocaust Remembrance Day address at Yad Vashem on Wednesday night. Netanyahu spoke as someone for whom the role of victim, all alone, against the entire world, is a source of great pleasure.
In his imagination, he doesn't live at the Prime Minister's Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, but in an underground bunker at Ulica Mila 18; he is not the leader of a country that, according to foreign news reports, is in possession of a nuclear arsenal of its own and is capable of razing Iran's major cities. Levy Eshkol once mockingly called Israel "the nerdy Samson." In Netanyahu's speeches, Israel is even weaker, even more pitiful than it actually is.
Barack Obama is getting increasingly angry with Netanyahu's Holocaust-infused statements. No American president would be willing to hear an Israeli prime minister compare him to Neville Chamberlain and hold him responsible for the next Jewish Holocaust. Ariel Sharon did so once, during a visit with former president Bush – but never repeated the mistake. Netanyahu makes the same mistake every day.
In private conversations, Obama expresses his longing for the old Israel, the Israel of 1967 – the fighting, pioneering and democratic Israel; the Israel that was admired by all the American Jews he knew. One can argue over whether that impression of Israel was real or a myth, reality or wishful thinking; but one cannot deny the strength of that image.
Israel today, Obama says, is not the Israel I fell in love with. Israel today is an arrogant country, which continues to build settlements and thumb its nose at the rest of the world, which denies the existence of the Palestinians, and which treats them like ghosts.
The opinions attributed here to Obama are based on comments I have heard from people who have met with him of late. The statements reflect the spirit of his comments and are not the actual words he used. That's why I refrained from placing them between quotation marks.
France and New Zealand, Obama says, are about to present the UN Security Council with a resolution on the Palestinian issue. It will contain all of the phrases that Israel finds so important but will, at the end, call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in keeping with the 1967 borders.
The government of Israel expects us, the United States, to impose a veto. I cannot say how we will respond; we haven't decided yet. But I have to ask myself: Why does Israel allows itself to do whatever it wants and still expect us to veto a resolution that accurately reflects our long-standing policy? Why should America impose a veto against itself?
The United States' blind support of Israel will not last forever, Obama has warned. There's been a shift in public opinion. Look what's happening on American campuses. Ask students what they think about Israel.