Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have brought with him the opposition leader to derail critics who claimed his congressional speech was designed simply to help his re-election two weeks before the Israeli elections.
That is the view of Danny Ayalon, who from 2009 to 2013 was Netanyahu’s deputy foreign minister, and from 2002 to 2006 his ambassador to Washington.
Ayalon said he made the suggestion in a letter to Netanyahu, believing it would have “shifted the arena from a political one to one of national security.”
Asked why it did not happen, Ayalon replied: “There is enough blame to go around. I blame all of them. The prime minister’s office said a request was made and rejected. … But the ultimate responsibility is with the prime minister. If he had wanted it to happen, it would have happened. It was a missed opportunity.”
In a press conference at Yeshiva University, where he is a visiting professor of Foreign Policy Studies, Ayalon was equally critical of President Barack Obama for refusing to meet with Netanyahu while he is in Washington. Obama said he would not meet for fear of giving the appearance of taking sides in the Israeli election of March 17.
“It is imperative for Obama to see him,” Ayalon said. “The stakes are too high, vis-a-vis Iran. We should be talking to one another at the highest levels before an agreement is signed. It could have been handled better, and to boycott the speech and not have a meeting is irresponsible.”
Nevertheless, Ayalon insisted that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel remains strong in terms of such things as intelligence sharing, defense coordination, economics and cultural interaction.
Regarding the talks with Iran designed to keep it from developing nuclear weapons, Ayalon criticized the decision to “lift $7 billion in sanctions [against Iran] without getting concrete concessions.”
“It was a mistake and poor judgment,” he said of the talks conducted with Iran by the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China (known as the P5+1 nations).
Ayalon warned that if Iran is permitted in the agreement now being negotiated to retain the infrastructure needed to make a bomb, “it poses a risk to all of us.”
He contended that Iran in seeking to develop nuclear weapons violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it signed and that the P5+1 nations should be “making demands rather than negotiating” with Iran. Ayalon insisted that not only Israel but also the Arab nations surrounding Iran are afraid of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Asked why Israel’s current ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, was unable to convince the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to drive home that point by sending envoys to hear Netanyahu’s speech, Ayalon said Israel’s continuing conflict with its Palestinian neighbors prevented that.
But that would change should Israelis and Palestinians resume talks to achieve a peace agreement, Ayalon said.
That is not likely anytime soon, he added, because Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “is no different from Hamas in terms of ideology.” Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.
“The Palestinians have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state just as Israel recognized their right to self determination,” he added. “Abbas says he is for a two-state solution, but he does not say it would be for two peoples.”
Ayalon pointed out that the Palestinian effort to delegitimize Israel has had a major impact in Europe and that it is trying to do the same thing in the U.S. He said he created The Truth About Israel campaign two years ago to counter that effort and that millions of people have viewed its website (http://thetruthaboutisrael.org.il/), Facebook and Twitter pages. He said it covers both “soft issues” and “rapid reaction” to breaking news.