US Mideast policy is based on a mistake

A piece in the NY Times by Ethan Bronner will do to show the disconnect between Obama administration policy and reality.

JERUSALEM — The new government of Israel is seeking to reorient the country’s foreign policy, arguing that to rely purely on the formulas of trading land for peace and promising a Palestinian state fails to grasp what it views as the deeper issues: Muslim rejection of a Jewish state and the rising hegemonic appetite of Iran…

Such an ambitious effort to reformulate the conflict will be, by all accounts, tough to sell for two reasons.

First, even though the standard approaches have not yielded success, no alternative has emerged.

Second, the Obama administration has repeatedly backed the two-state solution, as have the Europeans. In other ways, too, this White House has seemed to be closer in outlook to Europe than the past administration was.

There’s an ambiguity in the concept “two-state solution”. One meaning is an outcome, a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel. The other seems to be a strategy for getting there, which is that the US forces Israel to make concessions.

Most Israelis think that a two-state outcome would be acceptable, if the Palestinians actually wanted it and if there were a way to safely obtain it. The Israeli government has been committed to this since Oslo. But practically no ordinary Israelis believe that it’s possible today, for two reasons: Hamas and Iran.

Muslim rejectionism of Israel has been around since 1947. It’s been the cause of several major and minor wars and much terrorism between wars. Some people thought that there was a window of opportunity around the early 1990’s, when external influences on the Palestinians were at their ebb: Iran and Iraq were weakened by their long war, the Soviet Union was gone. Possibly enough Palestinians could be found who were pragmatic enough to choose peace. But then somebody decided to pick Yasser Arafat, rejectionist par excellence to lead the Palestinians. And the window, such as it was, closed.

Israel’s effort to switch the discussion to Iran is likely to be met in Washington and in European capitals with the assertion that it is precisely because of the need to build an alliance to confront Iran that Israel must move ahead vigorously with the Palestinians as well as with the Syrians.

“President Obama views the region as a whole, and trying to isolate each problem does not reflect reality,” said a senior American official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the American policy was still in formation. “It will be a lot easier to build a coalition to deal with Iran if the peace process is moving forward.”

This ‘linkage theory’ — that the presence of Israel in the territories prevents progress on other issues, like Iranian weapons — is a blinding non-sequitur.

We know that Israel giving land to the Palestinians today will not lead to a peaceful two-state outcome. Gaza proves that. And the reason that this is so is because the Iranian-backed Hamas will prevent it. A similar argument can be made for the Golan Heights and Syria.

In the presence of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, territorial concessions lead to war, not peace.

The Americans and Europeans are proposing that Israel should make territorial concessions anyway. This, they believe will cause Arab states like Saudi Arabia or even Syria to help apply pressure to Iran to stop fomenting war and building nuclear bombs.

There are two big problems with this. The first is that it will leave Israel with a hostile terrorist state like today’s Gaza on a shrunken eastern border, leaving its heavily populated coastal plain defenseless. The Palestinians will be emboldened in their belief that they can reverse the nakba, and the conflict will get worse, not better.

The Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead are both direct results of Israeli concessions to Iranian proxies.

The second is that a weakened Israel will be a far less effective deterrent to Iranian expansion and weapons development than a strong one. Despite their public statements, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians are counting on Israel to stop the Iranian weapons program before it’s too late.

The Palestinian question is actually much less pressing than the Iranian one, and today the former is clearly dependent on the latter, not the other way around.

Here’s is Bronner’s summation. Somehow the typical arrogant attitude of the unnamed American official shines through:

Israel says the occupation can be ended most easily once Iran is put in its place because then there will be much less risk of Iranian weapons being used against Israel from neighboring territory. Meanwhile, Israel says it cannot be expected to freeze settlement growth entirely.

The American, European and Arab response is that for Iran to be checked, every nation needs to do its part, and Israel’s part is to work toward ending the occupation, stopping settlement construction and fostering the creation of a Palestinian state.

When a senior American official was told that the Israelis did not view the Iranian and Palestinian problems as linked, he replied simply, “Well, we do.”

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