BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Mark Urban
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Towards a common language

Mark Urban | 17:44 UK time, Monday, 27 April 2009

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remarks over the weekend that he will leave it up to the Palestinians whether they negotiate a peace deal with Israel had generated much comment across the Middle East. The Iranian president told the US ABC network: "We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision [the Palestinians] take, we will support that."

Some American media have interpreted this as de facto Iranian acceptance of a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given some of Mr Ahmadinejad's previous rhetoric that would indeed mark a policy shift of considerable importance.

Equally, there have been those who have been quick to rubbish the story. Since the Iranians back Hamas as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, it's hard to see that radical movement and a right-wing Israeli government agreeing anything in a hurry. Iran, the argument goes, does not expect its acceptance of any two state deal to be tested.

The timing of this statement though is most interesting. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is due to see President Obama on 28 May. Other White House meetings, with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president are also expected around the same time.

This will not be a full scale Middle East summit in the sense of face to face peace talks. But it is clear that President Obama wants to push forward his ideas for restoring some hope - to the Palestinians in particular.

It's best then to see President Ahmadinejad's remarks not as evidence of some fundamental re-think in Tehran. He would have to go further and be more explicit for that to be the case. His interview was however a sign, faced with President Obama's charm offensive, that Iranian leaders realise they must deploy new language.

Setting one's face too obviously against an attempt to forge a new peace process is something that even the Iranian firebrand does not wish to do. In that sense his remarks do mark a small but interesting diplomatic shift.


  • Comment number 1.

    I believe that Mr Obama has genuine intentions in his moves to bring peace to Israel and Palestine.

    However Israel can hardly be expected to enter worthwhile negotiations, unless Palestine and its other Arab neighbours all recognise the State of Israel first.

    Even if a convoluted political accord could be reached on that issue, Arab feelings run so high that the Palestinian Arabs themselves would never accede to what their government negotiate.

  • Comment number 2.

    If Ahmadinejad knows that Hamas will not recognize a two-state solution, and he is their backer and encourages them not to, and recognizes only Hamas as representing the Palestinians, it is easy for him to say he will accept their cecision. This is only a shift in language. Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to existence and neither does Ahmadinejad.

  • Comment number 3.

    newsjock, I disagree when you say that Israel cannot be expected to enter negotiations until Arab states recognise it. Firstly, Arabs are at a loss as to which Israel to recognise, the Israel of 1967, or the daily expanding Israel that continues to swallow up Palestinian land in Jerusalem and Hebron and other cities?

    Secondly, with the whole of the West, especially the Americans on the Israeli side and a vastly superior military, the Arabs have very few bargaining chips to convince a do-as-they-please Israel to stop bulldozing homes, stop keeping Gaza as a large prison and cease maintaining the Palestinian population in poverty due to so many blockades. Recognising Israel, which actually will mean very little in reality to Israel, is one of the few things that can be used in negotiations.

    Palestinians have given up so many of thier demands to a bullying Israel already,including a realistic right to return for millions of Palestinian refugees and claims to whole swathes of land taken since 1967. This pretty much useless 'recognise Israel' card is one of the few bargaining chips they have left.

    So how can they recognise Israel first?

  • Comment number 4.

    "that Iranian leaders realise they must deploy new language" - All pointless unless the actions behind the new language fails to change. Its a start but its not only the language that has to change but the ears and minds that hear it. Its going to be a big year of change in Iran with the upcoming presidential elections, even if the current incumbent gets another term. Oil price dictates and that has brought baout changes in public spending and MP's in the Majlis (Iranian Parliament)- certainly the more liberal element - are actually wondering openly how to make the message of the 79 revolution current to the under 30 boom gripping the country. Its not just the rhetoric aimed overseas that is going through a review but also the ones aimed at the domestic audience.

  • Comment number 5.

    the israeli govt doesn't believe in a two state solution. As seen on the boards if they use the term two state what they mean is israel and palestinians moving to jordan. Today was announced a further expansion of settlements in the west bank. As long as they believe that through military force they can achieve their ends of further settlement they will do so. They always find a pretext to do nothing and just keep buying time. In that context what does it matter what anyone says?

    until the settlers and hamas negotiate nothing will be deliverable except more blood and human rights violations?

    some peoples fixation with iran looks obsessional?

  • Comment number 6.

    ooh shakin in me boots..Iran might get missiles that hurt people unlike Israel who have had em for yonks but pretend that they haven't and we don't remind them as we have no wish to offend

  • Comment number 7.

    Is one's mind so clouded by prior propaganda?

    The root of the problem is the victimisation of the Palestinians.

    Iran says, 'we will support what the Palestinians want' and 'we have no agenda in the matter'.

    Mr. Urban should introduce some clarity in his expression- it is clouded by an unexpressed fog of suppositions.

  • Comment number 8.

    I don't see this as anything new. Yes, Iran regards Hamas as Palestinians' legitimate leadership - that could have something to do with the movement winning 74 of the 132 Legislative Council seats at the last Palestinian election in January 2006.

    But you don't initiate a meaningful peace process by demanding that your adversary concede your case in advance of even talks about talks (did we demand that Irish Republicans explicitly recognise Partition before talking to them?). You're entitled to demand a ceasefire, but the rest you get from talking.

    When Hamas talks to Israel, that's de facto recognition. While its exclusion prevents Palestinians from being represented by the party they chose, there's no recognition of Palestinians' right to statehood (what sort of state has its leadership dictated by others?) - so why should Hamas recognise anybody today?

    It's hardly surprising that Iran and Hamas refuse to recognise Israel while it (and we) deny Palestinians the most basic rights compatible with their claim to statehood. If they really were committed to perpetual non-recognition the best response would be to call their bluff now. By failing to do so we just ensure that the conflict goes on with no way to resolve it.

  • Comment number 9.

    My dogs just overheard Jeremy Paxman mention dogs' breakfasts in Pakistan. How do they get hold them please?


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