With his boss, U.S. President Barack H. Obama, doing poorly in the polls less than a year before the 2012 election, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lashed out at Israel Friday, demanding that Israel “just get to the damn table” and negotiate with the PA. Ignoring Israel's ongoing and constant appeals to Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas to restart negotiations with Israel without preconditions – a stance supported by the Quartet, of which the U.S. is a member, it should be noted – Panetta said that “the problem right now is we can't get 'em to the damn table, to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences. We all know what the pieces are here for a potential agreement,” he said.
In response to Panetta's comments, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's spokesperson Mark Regev said Saturday night that it was the PA leadership that was responsible for the stalled negotiations. Israel, he said, was ready at any time for the resumption of negotiations without preconditions, but that the PA “is playing a diplomatic game to hide their stance, which is to boycott Israel and to refuse to negotiate.”
In his speech before the Brookings Institution Friday night, Panetta said that Israel needed to help out the U.S. with its outreach to Arab states. The “Arab Spring” has wreaked havoc with American foreign policy in the Arab world, as state after state has fallen to the domination of Islamists – the latest apparently being Egypt. While the U.S. has an “unshakable commitment” to Israel's security,” Panetta said that “in every strong relationship built on trust, built on friendship, built on mutual security, it demands that both sides work towards the same common goals. And Israel, too, has responsibility to pursue our shared goals to build regional support for Israel and the United States' security objectives.”
Among those goals, Panetta said, was preventing Iran from continuing with its program to build nuclear weapons. The U.S. needs the support of the Arab world to achieve that goal, and Israel needed to get with the program by negotiating with the PA and “mend fences,” performing ever more “gestures” - a code word for concessions - to satiate the PA's demands. “If gestures are rebuked, the world will see those rebukes for what they are. That is exactly why Israel should pursue them,” Panetta said.
Panetta did not discuss previous Israeli "gestures" such as last year's ten month freeze on building in Judea and Samaria - implemented specifically to encourage the PA to return to talks with Israel, but apparently insufficient a concession to bring those talks about.
Israel also needed to continue with those “risks for peace” despite the uprisings in the Arab world and the rise of the Islamists. “I recognize that there is a view that this is not the time to pursue peace and that the Arab awakening further imperils the dream of a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic Israel. But I disagree with that view. I believe Israel will ultimately be safer when other Middle Eastern states adopt governments that respond to their people, promote equal rights, promote free and fair elections, uphold their international commitments, and join the community of free and democratic nations,” Panetta said.
Before his speech, Panetta had met with Kadima head Tzippy Livni, who urged the U.S.official to increase sanctions against Iran "without delay," a statement from Kadima said. "The world needs to stop Iran," the Kadima statement quoted Livni as telling Panetta. "Stronger, tougher sanctions are required without delay.”
In their talks, Livni sided with Panetta's views of how to solve the myriad problems in the Middle East. According to the Kadima statement, Livni told Panetta that “the struggle against a nuclear Iran, and renewed movement in negotiations with the Palestinians will strengthen the pragmatic camp in the region.” In his speech, Panetta urged Israel not to act alone against Iran, and that military action was not the preferred way to deal with Iran's nuclear program."You always have the last resort ... of military action. But it must be the last resort, not the first," he said.