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May 1, 2015

U.S., Iran, Israel, and Palestine:
The Fateful Quadrangle

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By Dr. Abdul Jabbar

Three momentous and closely related events have just occurred in quick succession: Refusing to honor the U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared categorically that he will not allow the creation of a Palestinian state, thus killing any hope of any one-state or two-state solution in the near future. Secondly, the U.S. and five other major world powers have signed an agreement with Iran to seek a diplomatic, negotiated settlement that will allow Iran to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. And thirdly, Palestine has been accepted to membership of the International Criminal Court and can now bring charges of human rights violations against Israel.

Need for a new way

In view of the Israeli Prime Minister’s peace-shattering words, there is an urgent need to heed the Nobel laureate and peace activist Dr. Martin Luther King’s words:“We are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.” On the bright side, President Barack Obama might have shown us a new way in this triumph of diplomacy over war by reaching the framework agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Along with President Obama, leaders of five other countries, namely China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and Germany are architects of this historic accord that would allow a shift from confrontational to conciliatory strategies based on mutual respect and mutual interests. Adoption of this principle is also imperative for cordial U.S. relations with the Islamic world and for long-term negotiated peace everywhere. The deadline to reach the final agreement is June 30, 2015. Now it is up to our Congressional leaders to carry forward this peace mission by making sure that we do not swerve away from diplomacy toward militarism. If the U.S. Congress places partisan politics above our national interest and thereby undermines President Obama’s hard-won diplomatic victory, the world will find us guilty of breaking a critically important peace deal.

Quick military conquests and lingering defeats

We have learned from our involvement in so many wars, that quick military conquests too often sow seeds of lingering defeats. We definitely do not want to go that way. Shakespeare’s words are applicable here: “That way madness lies.” We cannot afford to alienate Iran. We need Iran to fight ISIS, to stabilize Iraq, to end the Syrian civil war, to end the incipient civil war in Yemen, in short, to maintain regional stability and world peace. In reaching this peace deal with Iran, President Obama has scored a major diplomatic victory besides winning the hearts and minds of millions of peace-loving Iranians, who welcomed this conciliatory gesture and are eager to reciprocate if given a chance.

  • For those of us who still might feel threatened by Iran’s potential to acquire a nuclear
  • bomb, it should be comforting to know that our government and other major countries
  • that are signatory to this agreement with Iran have made it impossible for Iran to
  • assemble a nuclear device. Such a stringent and transparent program of
  • inspections by International Atomic Energy Agency has never been put in place before.
  • For this reason, the open letter to Iran’s leadership from forty-seven U.S. senators was uncalled for and counterproductive. The senators havetransgressed their limits. It isthe government’s executive branch, not the legislative wing, that deals with foreignpowers. The senators’ letter was an ill-conceived foray into unauthorized territory andreceived a well-deserved rebuke from Iran. Earlier, those Congressional leaders whoinvited Israeli Prime Minister to address the Congress to undermine the negotiations withIran was also a serious breach of protocol. Foreign leaders are not allowed such receptionand audience on the eve of elections in their home countries and, more importantly, theyare not given a platform to try to derail negotiations being pursued by the head of thestate (President Obama) and other world leaders.

 U.S.-Iran relations

The senators’ arrogance and unwarranted threat of non-cooperation with Iran show that they have forgotten the reason for the falling out between the U.S. and Iran. The main cause of this rift goes back to 1953 when the British government and American CIA overthrew the democratically elected Iranian government of the Prime Minister Dr. Mohammed Mosaddegh after Iran nationalized its oil industry. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company had been giving Iran only 16% of oil revenues. When all attempts by Iran to reach a reasonable distribution of revenues failed and British unfair policies and racist treatment of Iranians resulted in a strike in which over 200 workers were killed by government troops, Iran was left with no choice but to nationalize its oil industry. The British imposed economic sanctions on Iran and threatened military action just as the U.S. has been doing to Iran since 1979.  Dr. Mosaddegh himself went before the U.N. Security Council to plead Iran’s case. He pointed out the injustice of a system whereby British oil profits just for the year 1950 exceeded what Iran had received in half a century. When the majority world opinion also started favoring Iran’s position, the British, in collusion with American CIA, arranged the ouster of Mosaddegh, even though the United Nations and the International Court of Justice upheld Iran’s point of view.

Because of the coup, Iran’s nascent democracy was squelched and the Shah’s autocratic 26-year reign started. The Shah’s dictatorship lasted until 1979 when the people of Iran forced him out of the country. He intended to come to the U.S. whose interests he had served while neglecting the needs of his own people. Iran’s people, remembering the dreadful 1953 scenario, feared a re-play that might re-impose the Shah on them again with American help. Suspecting a network of spies operating under the protection of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, they took the staff hostage and kept them for 444 days before releasing them. This was an illegal action by Iran’s students during the throes of a violence-filled period in Iran’s history. To punish Iran, U.S. government froze all Iranian assets in the U.S. and imposed severe sanctions on Iran. The army, including the Shah’s private army Savak, used excessive force to put down the revolution unsuccessfully.

Doing the right thing

Most Americans usually favor thrusts for freedom by the oppressed and victimized. If  they knew the facts about their government’s collusion with the British in 1953 to destroy Iran’s democracy and shatter its reformist vision that intended to create a just society, it is unlikely that they would tolerate U.S. senators’ imperialistic and colonial handling of Iran. The reforms that Mosaddegh and his government had started implementing covered all important areas of Iranians’ lives: ending corruption, establishing an independent judiciary, allowing complete religious and political freedom, women’s rights, help for farmers and the working class. These reforms met with opposition from the Shah, the army elite, and the landed aristocracy. Iran’s current government is trying to follow Mosaddegh’s vision. Criticizing Iran for not allowing sufficient freedom to its citizens is hypocritical because in post-9-11 America, American citizens have been subjected to state-sponsored surveillance, searches, arrests, and detentions without trial to an extent never before seen in this country. U.S. citizens had been proud of certain kinds of freedom and civil rights that they no longer enjoy because of just one attack on its soil. Iran, by comparison, was invaded in 1979 by the then U.S. ally Saddam Hussein of Iraq, who restarted an old but recently settled feud with Iran about the waterway, known as Shatt-al-Arab. Saddam took advantage of the U.S. desire to punish Iran for its hostage taking of the U.S. embassy staff. In that 8-year old war millions were killed. Saddam used poison gas not only on Iranian troops but also on its civilians. Covertly at first but openly toward the end of that war, the U.S. came in on the side of Iraq, forcing Iran to accept less than ideal conditions for ceasefire at the United Nations. Since then, in addition to fearing another Iraqi invasion, Iran has been under constant threats of invasion by Israel and the U.S. In that kind of climate, expecting Iranian government to allow its citizens more freedom than what is granted to U.S. citizens is unreasonable. Iran’s taking of U.S. hostages in 1979 was illegal and reprehensible, but it did no damage to U.S. infrastructure and way of life, whereas the U.K.-U.S. collusion that overthrew Iran’s democratic government in 1953 destroyed the country’s progress toward becoming an ideal state in the Middle East. U.S. imposition of strict sanctions on Iran further damaged the country’s economic well-being. It is a price that Iranians are paying to this day. A neutral observer would have to say that the punishment meted out to Iran far exceeds its transgression in taking U.S. hostages.

Mosaddegh’s following words speak for the exploited and oppressed everywhere in the world, and the U.S. government should pay close attention to the appeal embedded in those words:

    “. . . my sin is that I nationalized Iran’s oil industry and discarded the system of economic and political exploitation by the world’s greatest empire. . . . With God’s blessing and the will of the people, I fought this savage and dreadful system of international espionage and colonialism. . . . I am well aware that my fate must serve as an example in the future throughout the Middle East in breaking the chains of slavery and servitude to colonial interests.”

Israel’s nuclear arsenal needs attention

Just as the world’s six top leaders have succeeded in putting an end to the possibility of Iran’s making a nuclear bomb, justice and regional security demands that we also ask Israel – the only nuclear power in the Middle East – to declare its arsenal of over 200 nuclear bombs and agree to inspections by IAEA. It makes no sense to let one country have nuclear bombs and prevent another from acquiring that capability. Nearly 99.9 % of the world will not accept such open bias and favoritism for one and crippling sanctions and threats of invasion for another. If allowed to continue, this policy will encourage many other countries to follow the example of Israel to assemble a nuclear bombclandestinely. Making Israel sign the United Nations’ non-proliferation treaty is the only way to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.

Finding it unwise to link the Iran nuclear deal with requiring Iran to first recognize Israel’s right to exist, President Obama has rightly rejected Israeli Prime Minister’s demand that a nuclear deal with Iran must include “unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.” This Israeli demand is premature for another very fundamental reason: Israel has not yet declared its borders. This is the problem with the Israeli Prime Minister’s demand:  Which Israel does he want Iran to recognize: Israel of the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947? Or Israel that, by the armistice of 1948, increased its control of historic Palestine from the UN-mandated 53% to 78%? Or the Israel of June 1967 that seized 100% of historic Palestine? Before making such demands, Mr. Netanyahu should carefully think what he is asking for.His insistence on Iran’s recognition of Israel brings us to the next piece in this fateful quadrangle. It concerns the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel and Palestine: Israel’s suicide bombing of peace process with Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that he will never allow a Palestinian state in historic Palestine has killed any hope for peace through negotiations with Israel because now there is nothing left to negotiate. Israel’s latest move must make even the staunchest supporters of Israel skeptical about Israel’s long-term survival as a state in the Middle East. Netanyahu’s declaration now proves beyond any doubt the real reason for Israel’s deadly assaults on Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014. The goal was to destroy the last source of Palestinian resistance. In the context of Israel’s unprovoked 2014 invasion of Gaza on completely false pretext, in a World Post article titled “How Israel Can Escape the Gaza Trap,” former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami offered this assessment of Israel’s precarious position:

  • “Contrary to what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu believes, the main existential threat facing the country is not a nuclear-armed Iran. The real peril is to be found at home: the corrosive effect of the Palestinian problem on Israel's international standing. The devastation caused by Israel's periodic asymmetrical confrontations, combined with the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and the ever-growing expansion of settlements, has fueled a growing campaign to undermine Israel's legitimacy” (Ben-Ami link).

Like Ben-Ami, Israel’s supporters and well-wishers, including President Barack Obama and former US President Jimmy Carter, are rightly concerned that the present state of affairs in Israel/Palestine is not sustainable. Much before Ben-Ami, Carter had articulated this problem of the real threat to Israel in his book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid:

  • “The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens – and honor its own previous commitments – by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel’s right to live in peace under these conditions. The United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories” (Carter 216).

Continued on page 2 of 3 pages