The shape of the Obama administration’s Mideast policy is beginning to become clear, and it shows either a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts or a deliberate tilt in an unsavory direction. Secretary of State Clinton commented last week:
Clinton said she did not want to “prejudge the Israeli position until we’ve had face-to-face talks.” But she then cautioned that Israel was unlikely to gain support for thwarting Iran unless there were visible efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood.
“For Israel to get the kind of strong support it’s looking for vis-a-vis Iran it can’t stay on the sideline with respect to the Palestinian [sic] and the peace efforts, that they go hand-in-hand,” Clinton said.
Clinton noted that every Arab official she has met with “wants very much to support the strongest possible policy toward Iran.” But, she said, “they believe that Israel’s willingness to reenter into discussions with the Palestinian Authority strengthens them in being able to deal with Iran.”
Now we know that Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are very concerned with Iran’s attempt to expand its sphere of influence — both political and religious — to include the entire region. Through Hezbollah, which has been called the “Foreign Legion of the Iranian revolution”, Iran has established control over Lebanon, attempted to subvert Egypt and of course terrorized Israel’s northern frontier. Iran has armed Syria with a formidable missile force and supports the most radical Palestinian elements — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and radical elements of Fatah with money, arms and training. It is likely that after the US leaves Iraq, this country too, with its Shiite majority, will almost certainly fall under Iranian influence or control.
All this so far has been accomplished by an Iran with a relatively weak conventional military. If it obtains nuclear weapons, they will be used for blackmail and as an umbrella for Hezbollah, making Iran by far the dominant power in the Muslim Middle East.
One would think that the last thing that the Arab states would worry about today is the tiny Palestinian territories. Especially since Palestinians are treated like subhumans in Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, etc. Of course this is correct: they don’t care a fig for the Palestinians, and they are worried about Iran. But they see an opportunity to apply pressure on Israel via the US, and the Obama administration seems ready to oblige them.
In fact the chain of causality acts in the opposite direction to Clinton’s suggestion: the Iranian problem does not depend on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; rather, the reverse is true.
Efforts to reach a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) that would lead to a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel have so far failed to bear fruit, primarily because the PA has not deviated from its hardline positions: Israel must fully withdraw to pre-1967 borders including East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, Israel will not be recognized as a Jewish state, and there must be a right of return for Palestinian ‘refugees’.
Israeli-suggested compromises involving land swaps that would allow some settlements close to the Green Line to remain while the PA would be compensated with land from Israel proper, or arrangements that would permit partial Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount have been rejected.
‘Moderate’ Abbas displays ‘moderate’ map of ‘Palestine’
One might ask what leverage the PA has that justifies this stubbornness. It’s simple: the alternative to peace on their terms is Iranian-sponsored terrorism. Mahmoud Abbas has said as much:
But [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas said that unless Israel halts expansion of settlements, “it would be futile to dream of the peace that we all hope for. Because if we fail, if we do not attain peace, then the alternative poses a serious threat.
“The alternative will plunge the entire region into the deadly cycle of violence once again. I don’t even wish to imagine what that might lead us to,” he added. — (Reuters, Sept. 2008)
“Expansion of settlements” is a red herring, referring to Israel’s building houses within existing settlements — most of them either in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem or right next to the Green Line. We now know that progress in the Annapolis talks was really stymied by the PA’s refusal to compromise. Nevertheless, they never failed to raise the spectre of a renewed intifada if they did not get their way.
And don’t forget that the biggest obstacle to a peace agreement is that almost half of the Palestinian territories are controlled by Hamas — Iranian-supported Hamas — which will not agree to end the conflict on any terms, even unreasonable ones.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed this succinctly in a recent interview:
What is the biggest problem for the Palestinians. It’s not Israel. It’s their internal Palestinian problem. We saw so many atrocities. There is such danger within – between Hamas and Fatah. Their biggest problem is first of all Hamas. Hamas in Judea and Samaria, Hamas in Gaza – supported by the Iranians.
The Iranians are the biggest sponsor of worldwide terrorist activity, whether it’s Hizbullah or Hamas or Islamic Jihad or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or anywhere around the world…
It’s impossible to resolve any problem in our region without resolving the Iranian problem. This relates to Lebanon, to their influence in Syria, their deep involvement within Egypt, in the Gaza Strip, in Iraq. If the international community wants to resolve its Middle East problems, it’s impossible because the biggest obstacle to this solution is the Iranians.
Think about it, Mrs. Clinton: are you putting the cart before the horse?