For some time I’ve been struggling with the ‘linkage theory’, the idea that “ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is necessary (or helpful) for solving other problems in the Mideast”. Its most recent proponent, of course, has been Barack Obama, who said this yesterday:
To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians – between the Palestinians and the Israelis – then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat… Imagine how much less mischief Hizbullah or Hamas could do if, in fact, we had moved a Palestinian-Israeli track in a direction that gave the Palestinian people hope. And if Hizbullah and Hamas [are] weakened, imagine how that impacts Iran’s ability to make mischief and vice versa. — Jerusalem Post
Linkage is not new. For example here is a comment by Richard H. Curtiss, a retired State Department official and one of the most anti-Israel guys you’ll find west of Gaza:
By usurping the Palestinian cause, Saddam Hussain captured hearts and minds in the Middle East, Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, and even the United States. If the US allows him to go down in history as a hero of the still homeless Palestinians, Americans will lose the peace. This means our Arab allies will, eventually, be undermined. Our relations with all of our NATO allies will suffer. And US troops will someday be back in the Middle East, but very likely without either Arab or European allies. — “After the Gulf War, Linkage Means Winning the Peace“, 1991
The Iraqis themselves, apparently, believed in linkage. Here’s a snippet from a 2002 CNN broadcast during the run-up to the Iraq war:
Paula Zahn (CNN anchor): And how much have you heard from Iraqi officials lately about Palestine or a Palestinian state?
Jane Arraf (CNN Baghdad correspondent): Every day, that is the overriding issue, not just in Iraq, Paula, but in this region as well, and is really overshadowing U.S. plans for any intervention in Iraq. The feeling is, that as long as there’s simmering and as long as the United States is seen to be siding wholeheartedly with Israel against the Palestinians, it really is going to be very difficult to get a coalition here to launch any sort of action against Iraq.
It’s worth mentioning that 2002 was the height of the Arafat Intifada, a year in which literally hundreds of Israelis were blown to bits by Palestinian suicide bombers.
I’ve argued that linkage is profoundly illogical and that in fact the US administration does not even believe it — that it is simply being used as an excuse to force Israel to make concessions, with the implied threat that otherwise the US will not help deal with Iran.
But although the administration would like to use linkage as a club to beat Israel with, US actions against the Iranian nuclear program cannot possibly be waiting on ‘progress’ on the Palestinian Issue. Evidence for this is that Sunni Arab states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are quite concerned about Iran, and you can bet that they are not holding their breath until there’s peace in the Holy Land. Certainly Obama is telling them that the issues are independent.
So if the Palestinians are actually irrelevant and everyone knows this, why is a Palestinian state presented as such a high priority for the US? There are several reasons:
- Domestic political considerations: a large proportion of the funding for Mr. Obama’s campaign — and many of his advisers — came from the ‘progressive’ wing of the Democratic party (and indeed, from progressives who might not even associate themselves with the Democrats). The Palestinian issue is very big in these circles.
- The US image in the Muslim world: Obama would like to reverse the general impression among Muslims throughout the world that the US is their enemy. One of his first interviews as President was with Al Arabiyah. What better way to score points than to take on probably the biggest symbol of ‘Muslim oppression’ in the world, the Palestinian issue?
- The State Department and the Saudis: almost since Rav Goren blew the shofar at the Temple Mount in 1967, State policy — possibly a result of strong Saudi influence — has been that the US should do its best to shrink the map of Israel back to what it was before.
- Europe: The Europeans love the idea, because it plays so well at home and helps them avoid considering the Iranian threat — for now.