Netanyahu to sell Obama on Arab states’ role in peace process

Speaking to Jewish leaders in NY, PM warns that curbing IS should not be at the expense of preventing a nuclear Iran

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in New York Monday, September 30, 2014. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in New York Monday, September 30, 2014. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

NEW YORK – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak with US President Barack Obama about the possibility of involving Arab states in attempts to rekindle the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the prime minister told a group of American Jewish leaders late Tuesday morning.

In an address to some 300 attendees, Netanyahu doubled down on the main messages delivered in his speech a day earlier before the United Nations General Assembly, including the dangers of Iran and the Islamic State.

Netanyahu told the audience that he will speak with Obama about the “possibility of involving the Arab states in the peace process,” a day after he suggested at the UN that the road to peace with the Palestinians might first entail improving relations with moderate Arab regimes. Netanyahu reiterated Tuesday that letting Arab states participate in developing a solution would “promote peace” with the Palestinians.

Although the Arab states have offered input in the past — most notably through the “Arab Peace Initiative,” a proposal first bruited in 2002 by Saudi Arabia — the most recent round of failed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were bilateral talks moderated by the United States.

In his address Tuesday, Netanyahu reiterated — albeit more strongly — many of the other messages he broadcast during his speech to the General Assembly. Whereas on Monday, he held up a picture of a girl in a red shirt playing next to rocket launchers in Gaza to highlight the ways in which Hamas intentionally embeds within the civilian population, Netanyahu’s highlighted image Tuesday featured a Hamas execution in Gaza.

The photograph, which showed a man with a gun standing over a kneeling, handcuffed man wearing an orange shirt, was closely reminiscent of videos released of IS’s executions of western journalists and aid workers.

“ISIS and Hamas are different because ISIS beheads people and Hamas shoots them in the head,” he quipped grimly, using an alternate name for the group. Netanyahu warned that stopping IS was important, but that it should not come at the expense of preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu is likely to reinforce this message during his meeting with Obama on Wednesday morning.

A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu would also urge Obama not to let Iran continue enriching uranium, another central plank of his UN address, Israel Radio reported.

It’s not clear his message will get a warm reception. On Monday, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said Washington did not cotton to Netanyahu’s view that Hamas, ISIS and Iran were part of the same militant Islamist circle.

“We obviously believe that ISIL poses a different threat to the United States, based on, of course, the military action and other efforts that are underway. We don’t believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu or anyone else from Israel is suggesting that the United States launch a military campaign against Hamas, so we certainly –- they are both designated terrorist organizations under the United States designations, but certainly we see differences in terms of the threat and otherwise,” she said. “We would not agree with that characterization, no.”

Among those in attendance at Netanyahu’s Tuesday talk at the Palace Hotel was New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom Netanyahu lauded for his support for Israel.

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