The record of US President Barack Obama’s recent call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not made public. Here is how it went down, reckons Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara.
January 25, 2015
BN: Shalom, shalom, what a nice surprise, what’s up?
BO: Prime minister, let’s cut through the niceties! I don’t appreciate your continuous attempts to undermine me in Congress. Certainly not now and not on Iran.
BN: I did no such thing. I merely accepted Speaker Boehner’s invitation to speak to both Houses of Congress. Who wouldn’t! I did it in 1996, in 2011 and I would be honoured to do it again.
BO: No Bibi, let’s don’t do that; Don’t insult my intelligence! I know how your ambassador initiated the conversation about the speech with Congressional Republican leaders. You’ve been trying to undermine me from the start; not to mention supported Romney against me. It’s not ethical to go behind the back of the president of the United States and insert yourself into an internal American debate between the White House and Congress over US foreign policy.
BN: Excuse me Mr President, but there’s nothing domestic or exclusively American about Iran’s nuclear programme. You know all too well that we are just as concerned with the issue and you have kept us in the dark since the negotiations started while chumping up to the Ayatollahs. How do you think it makes us feel watching Secretary Kerry making jokes and strolling with the Iranian foreign minister?
BO: I didn’t call you to discuss John’s sense of humour. My administration has kept you abreast with the progress in the negotiations and I have repeatedly made it clear that all options are on the table and that I would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons programme.
BN: Yeah, and you also said use of chemical weapons in Syria was a red line and the PLO would be punished if it pursued UN recognition!
BO: Do you even hear yourself talking! Didn’t I disarm the Syrian regime from chemical weapons, and foil the Palestinians’ attempt at the [UN] Security Council without even using our veto power? Is that how you thank me; how you reward America?
BN: Barack, let’s not get emotional. Of course we appreciate your support, but you’re not exactly a decisive leader that delivers on his ultimatums.
BO: Well, here’s one for you: If you continue to undermine me over Iran, you will pay dearly.
BN: Here we go again! There’s nothing new here to merit all your agitation, nothing that I didn’t say on countless occasions and at countless platforms. My government believes it takes sticks, not carrots, to deter Iran, and the threat of force not the appeasement of diplomacy will stop it. Let’s just agree to disagree.
BO: Well, my administration thinks differently and if we are to agree to disagree, then you need to stay out of Washington politics just as Washington keeps out of yours.
BN: This is not fair Mr President. Easy to talk when your feet aren’t so close to the fire; that this is a dangerous unfriendly region where extremists are roaming everywhere.
BO: Come on! It’s not like Israel doesn’t possess nuclear weapons and can’t defend itself. It’s rather your occupation, settlements, and continuous undermining of the peace process that are making things worse for both of our nations.
BN: We can’t and won’t make any further redeployment from the West Bank; not as long as extremism is on the rise and the region is falling apart. We shan’t allow Abbas a state so that Hamas goes to govern. Not happening!
We’ve been America’s eyes and ears in this hostile region
BO: I’ve told you many times, a disarmed Palestinian state is good for Israel, but then, and as you said, we’ve also agreed to disagree about this. And despite the pressure from Arabs and Europeans, I have not tried to affect Israel’s politics or your decision processes. I even defended you everywhere when I knew you’re in the wrong.
BN: We don’t call Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria occupied. Nonetheless, we do appreciate your support and for leaving us be.
BO: We’ve already reached an understanding: a division of labour. You may have the last word in Palestine, but the US has the last word in the region and on Iran in particular. You have neither the capacity, nor the legitimacy, nor the clout to deal with the big burning Middle East issues. So you must leave it to us. Stop meddling in Washington; stop provoking Iran and Hezbollah. Using air strikes to kill their personnel in Syria might be satisfying, but it’s counterproductive. The main enemy is ISIL.
BN: See, here you again, Hezbollah, Al-Quds force, ISIL, Hamas, these are all Islamic terrorists and we don’t differentiate between them.
BO: You’re not on CNN, Benjamin. You and I know Hamas is nothing like ISIL. Besides, it’s your continued delegitimisation of Abbas that’s strengthening Hamas. Israel has every right to defend itself, but the illegal settlements are hurting both Palestine and your version of the Jewish state.
BN: If you allow me Mr President, you’re new to this region. Your predecessors have long trusted Israel’s perspectives; we’ve been America’s eyes and ears in this complicated and hostile region; we fought and defeated your Soviet-supported enemies when you were losing in Vietnam; we shared intelligence and the lessons of war against Soviet-made weapons during the Cold War. We did your dirty work not only in the Middle East but also in Asia, Africa and Latin America when Congress didn’t have the stomach for it. Israel is an asset not a burden, Mr President! Treat us like one!
BO: That was then, and we are in the present. And in case you forgot, America armed you and made you into the most powerful country in the region that can fend against any combination of enemies. We supplied you with over $150bn of direct military and financial aid, we’ve invested in you, we protected you at the UN, and we even covered up for all your excesses and violations. But the Cold War is over and all the Arab and Muslim nations are happy to work with, or for, us, and they’re ready to recognise Israel if you allow for a two-state solution in good faith, and withdrew from the occupied Arab lands. That would be of great benefit for you and for the United States.
BN: The Cold War might be over, but another global war is being waged against you and us. Mr President, extremist Islamists don’t hate you because of us; they hate us because we are an extension of you. We need to be united in confronting this deadly ideology, whether Sunni or Shia, together and before it’s too late. We can’t let Iran or its clients off the hook because of ISIL.
BO: See that’s the problem with your perspective, your proximity to the conflict blinds you from seeing the big picture. Yours is a small state with immediate perspective. You see the region in black and white; I see it in shades of grey. My predecessor lived in your mindset and acted like a hammer that saw a nail in every challenge. And look where that got us. I am trying to juggle many issues and build different coalitions on multiple fronts to confront regional and global threats, and you’re not helping.
BN: OK, fine. But as the leaders of two sovereign democracies, why not let the people decide what is the right policy on Iran?
BO: The people of the United States decided when they elected me as president and commander-in-chief for the second time, knowing all too well my position on Iran and diplomacy. The United States doesn’t need another speech from you to decide.
BN: So why are you so worried?
BO: I am not worried; I am annoyed. I am irritated. I’ve already told Congress that I would veto any more sanctions. Remember, I don’t have another election to win and won’t be blackmailed by your lobby. Nor, by the way, will Hillary, who already made it clear more Iran sanctions would be counter-productive.
BN: Well, we shall see about that.
BO: We will. Meanwhile, I am Barack Obama and I am the president and I am telling you to back off.
BO: And I won’t be seeing you anytime soon.
Phone call, the sequel.
Transcript by Marwan Bishara, senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
28 Jan 2015
BO: Shalom Bibi, I didn’t expect your call so soon…
BN: We hung up on a bitter note and I was hoping we could find a middle ground.
BO: I can’t see a middle ground here. Besides you have an election coming up and we cannot seem to be siding with any one side.
BN: Mr President, I am preoccupied by Iran’s nuclear programme, not the elections. I am driven by the solemn commitment to Israel’s security, not politics.
BO: You don’t say! Unless you’re planning to leak our chat, I can’t see the point of this lofty talk; we’re all political animals dear Bibi … no shame in that, I just prefer if you did it in your own backyard.
BN: You must believe me. I won’t say it if I didn’t mean it.
BO: Look, I am not questioning your sincerity, I am questioning your judgement; coming two weeks before the elections can only be perceived as exploiting the nuclear issue for narrow personal or political end. Frankly, it stinks of opportunism.
BN: Barack, I am calling out of consideration not desperation. What makes you think I am worried about the elections or the visit? I can easily make the speech and get re-elected prime minister come spring time.
BO: Judging from our diplomatic cables and the media reports, you are becoming ever more isolated, no one supports your visit, not even your friends in the Democratic Party, as well as your advisers and lobbyists, all are asking you to back off and cancel the visit. Your gamble has clearly backfired.
BN: Perhaps you and your people pay too much attention to the liberal press. I don’t exactly care for the NY Times and Haaretz; their readerships aren’t exactly my constituency.
BO: Benjamin, I read the signs, and yours are bleak. You’ve bitten off more than you can chew. If you’re seeking my help to avoid choking on your own ambition, I’ll happily oblige, but only if you call off the speech. That’s unless you’ve had a sudden change of heart and decided to support our diplomacy.
BN: I couldn’t and wouldn’t call it off. That would be a major slap to Congress and its leadership. There should be another way out that doesn’t undermine the White House or Congress and I am hoping we can explore it together.
BO: There’s no way out. The only option that I can think of – one that was suggested by one of your lobbyists – is for you to postpone until well after the elections. Since you are sure of winning, I suggest you come late spring or summer. And perhaps we could also meet then.
BN: You want me to come speak to both Houses of Congress about the threat of Iran’s nuclear programme after you’ve signed a deal with President Rouhani! Who’s disingenuous now!
BO: Either way you won’t get your way, Mr Prime Minister. Senator Robert Menendez and nine other Democratic senators have already sent me a letter to say they had withdrawn their support for another sanctions bill until the diplomatic process ran its course. We are betting on a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue.
BN: I am sure this will not stop the Republicans from going ahead with a bill. Meanwhile, I am only trying to mitigate a potential crisis and see whether we could arrive at a compromise of sort.
BO: No compromises here. I am the Commander in Chief and I’ve decided to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear programme. The Senate Republicans might be able to pass a bill with a thin majority, but they won’t be able to override my veto power. You are on the wrong side of the issue; worse, you’re on the wrong side of history.
BN: Oh, history, right. Mr President many before have bet on peace and diplomacy in the Middle East, but they failed once and again. This region and its people only understand the alphabet of intimidation and the language of force. You’ll fail like any of your predecessors who reckoned they could reason with these people.
BO: These people, as you call them, are your neighbours, not ours. You might have the illusions of being western, but you are a Middle Eastern nation whether you like it or not. And, by the way, “these people” say the same about you.
BN: Israel is a country of principle; a country that’s fighting for its survival. We would never compromise on that.
BO: Your neighbours and much of the world reckon that Israel is an occupier. That it’s Israel that only understands the language of force. That you’ve withdrawn from the Sinai, Lebanon and Gaza only under the threat of force and war.
BN: Be that as it may, look where these withdrawals have gotten us. They certainly didn’t bring us security or normalisation of relations. The Arabs and Muslims are hateful and won’t make peace with us. Our only protection is our military.
BO: And the United States?
BN: Well, yes.
`It’s racist if you don’t mind my saying so’
BO: You will never feel safe or even survive in the long run until you become part and parcel of the region. You need to make peace and normalise relations with your neighbours. Agreements are always better than war.
BN: We are a democratic Jewish State in a sea of chaotic Muslim countries. And the only way we can endure it is by maintaining military superiority and total control over the autonomous Palestinian areas. History shows that the Palestinians cannot be trusted. We’ve tried to work with them but they’re not amenable to co-existence.
BO: You want to maintain control over them and treat them as inferior and still expect them to acquiesce to your dictates! I never said it to you in the past, and I won’t say it publicly even when some have speculated about my thoughts, but I think your approach towards your Arab and Muslim neighbours reminds me of the European approach to Africa, just as your treatment of the Palestinians reminds me of America’s past treatment of black people. It’s racist if you don’t mind my saying so.
BN: Sorry Mr President but I won’t allow you to say that about us, we the Jewish people have suffered from racism more than any other people and won’t tolerate such criticism. We’ve already told Mr Kerry how much we opposed his reference to Apartheid in the absence of peace.
BO: You forget whom you’re talking to. Let’s not try and compare past suffering. The challenge here is not to compete over victimhood. Rather the challenge is to draw the right conclusion; to stand for justice and equality, or to project bigotry and or justify xenophobia and racism.
BN: Thank you for another sermon, but that’s hardly the issue here. It certainly wouldn’t mitigate the Iranian threat. If you care so much for the Palestinians why did you leave them at our mercy, we, quote, the occupier, unquote? Why would you barter their rights for our silence on Iran?
BO: Listen, eventually you must either separate from the Palestinians into two states, or you’ll have to live with them in one state, as in South Africa. Remember, Iran represents no threat, nuclear or any other, if you and the Palestinians live TOGETHER in peace and harmony. Otherwise, it’s Israel that will be isolated; it’s Israel that will pay the price of choosing belligerence over diplomacy.
BN: I need to go Mr President, as I am getting reports that Hezbollah has just attacked our military on the northern borders.
BO: We shall condemn it.
BN: I rest my case.
BO: So do I…