Conflict & Justice

What Iran's nuclear deal means for Palestinians: 3 Questions with GlobalPost's Jerusalem correspondent


No, Palestinians aren't all that enthused by the Iran nuclear deal. Here's why.


Marco Longari

BOSTON — Sunday's big announcement aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear program, rightfully, has the world talking.

It's not every day that diplomacy has a chance to avert potential war, particularly when the parties involved — we're looking at you Iran, Israel and the US — have such a troubled history.

But there's one critical group that's been very quiet: the Palestinians.

To dig deeper into this key piece of the Iran nuclear puzzle, we turned to GlobalPost's senior correspondent in Jerusalem, Noga Tarnopolsky.

Has there been a reaction from the Palestinian leadership to the historic Iran agreement in Geneva?

Ramallah has been conspicuously quiet. Toward the end of the day Monday, Saeb Erekat, senior PLO official and Palestine's chief negotiator with Israel, issued a statement saying "the negotiations that took place in Geneva present of a unique precedent and platform for the international community to resolve differences avoiding war and violence. We call upon the international community to make use of the same efforts in order to end decades of occupation and exile for the people of Palestine in order to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine."

You may notice a lack of specificity and conviction in that statement.

That's because the Palestinians are even more spooked by the Iran pact than the Israelis are — but for entirely other reasons.

For one, they don't trust the Iranians any more than any other Middle Eastern government does.  But their real fear lies elsewhere.

The Palestinians are concerned that the United States — after undertaking a huge risk in its Middle East diplomacy with regard to Iran and Israel — will have no stomach for embarking on any other project of such a magnitude, such as a comprehensive peace deal in the Middle East that involves them.

It’s a good point. Also, they are acutely aware of the hit Netanyahu is taking to his prestige. They feel certain he will take it out on negotiations with them. How else will he be able to prove to his right wing flank that he maintains his toughness and dexterity?

In addition, the Palestinians are fearful of Republicans in US Congress who have already promised to look into new Iran sanctions early next month, and who seem unenthusiastic about US Secretary of State John Kerry's track record of negotiations. I predict bumpy waters here.

Given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's very public pique, are the Palestinians also worried the US may be losing some of its leverage against Israel?

Absolutely. In fact, many analysts are saying this explicitly, and even arguing that the very possibility of a nuclear-free Iran is worth sacrificing the urgency of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. This is not what Palestinians want to hear. "The Palestinian issue is the big casualty of this deal," Bruce Riedel, a former US government official who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The New York Times. "Now that they have an Iran deal, over the strong objections of Israel, it’s going to be very hard to persuade Netanyahu to do something on the Palestinian front.”

In Erekat's statement, he addresses this concern by calling "upon the international community to use the same determination and action to achieve a just and lasting peace in Palestine. The international community must show determination in order to stop treating Israel as a state above the law." He adds, "In order to achieve a just and lasting peace, this culture of impunity must end."

Given the jubilation over the interim Iran deal, and the energy it is sure to demand from the State Department in the next six months, is there anything the Palestinians can do to keep their cause at the forefront?

Unfortunately, not a lot. There are discussions in Ramallah about re-igniting the "UN policy" — the unilateralist strategy of gaining international recognition as a sovereign state via international organizations. But this policy is frowned upon by the US and is an in open violation of the Oslo Accords. Nor has it been successful for them in the past.

Palestinian self-determination efforts aren't even getting much support in their own neighborhood. Yesterday, in an interview on Israel Army Radio, former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy claimed he had recently attended a conference with Iranian participation, and that "the Palestinian matter didn't even come up. They simply don't care. It didn't even register as an issue for them." It was unclear if Halevy was referring to just the Iranians or all Arab states. But the point holds.

Looking at it from a long-term perspective, the UN's 1947 resolution partitioning then-British Mandatory Palestine into two nations — one Arab, one Jewish — was the last time there was a real chance at establishing an independent, sovereign Palestine. The 1993 Oslo Accords were the next serious attempt at resolving the issue, and succeeded in granting the Palestinians partial but significant self-rule. They provide the framework for the talks Kerry has spearheaded in the past few months.

But we are far from a final status agreement. Kerry's original nine-month framework for the resolution of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities now looks likely to be subsumed by the urgency of ensuring that Iran is sticking to their interim agreement, and by what are certain to be contentious, difficult discussions aimed at achieving a nuclear-free Iran.

If these talks fail, of course — and there is no guarantee of their success — all bets are off.

In that event, Israel and the Gulf monarchies would likely demand immediate American action of some type, and significant guarantees of security. This is assuming that if Israel doesn't act — militarily — on its own.