Akiva Eldar writes: President Shimon Peres’ nonagenarian birthday celebrations on June 18 took me back some 20 years to my farewell talk with him. Having just finished a 10-year tour as the political correspondent of Israeli daily Haaretz, I was getting ready to leave for Washington as the newspaper’s desk chief in the United States. Back then, I asked the 70-year-old toddler Peres to sum up in one sentence what he considered to be the greatest achievement of his entire public career. Serving at the time as foreign minister in the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s second government, Peres fired back in a flash: “My contribution is that Israel is strong enough to make peace.” I instantly understood that the first part of the sentence was alluding to Dimona, where — according to foreign sources, of course — Peres had initiated the establishment of Israel’s nuclear reactor. It was only two weeks later, on Sept. 13, 1993, that I understood the second part of that sentence — making peace — as I watched him and Rabin shake hands with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.
As noted, 20 years have gone by since that meeting. Today, it seems that both notions — namely “Israeli strength” and “making peace” — are not what they used to be. The Iranian nuclear program is poised to chip away at what is called Israel’s “qualitative edge,” thus compromising its security. The status of peace isn’t heartwarming either. Notwithstanding, the replacement of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with President-elect Hassan Rouhani, and the growing interest in the Arab peace initiative open a window of opportunity for a new paradigm: Nuclear demilitarization in exchange for a comprehensive peace. Put differently, the old threat will be traded for new hope.
In June 2006, Flynt Leverett, who served as a senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council during the early years of the President Bush administration, disclosed that on at least two occasions the United States had ignored Tehran’s reconciliation overtures. Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Leverett related that in the spring of 2003, shortly after the US invasion of Iraq, the Swiss ambassador to Iran relayed to the White House an Iranian proposal to start a dialog with the administration on the nuclear issue. In the same breath, Tehran also proposed to discontinue its support of terrorism outside the occupied Palestinian territories and even embrace the principles of the Arab League’s peace initiative. (Iran abstained in the vote on the initiative that took place at the meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2003).
A few weeks prior to Leverett’s disclosure, Rouhani — who at the time served as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in the Supreme National Security Council and prior to that as Iran’s representative to the nuclear talks with the West — had made a far-reaching proposal for an International Atomic Energy Agency oversight of his country’s nuclear installations. In an article published in Time magazine (May 2006), he warned of a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race, pointing out the United States’ “double standard,” hinting at its longstanding support of Israel’s refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. [Continue reading…]