Hints of Obama Mideast policy are less than encouraging

Brzezinski (left) and ScowcroftVarious sources are reporting that Barack Obama is consulting with Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor under the Ford and Bush I administrations. Scowcroft has always been a big proponent of the ‘linkage theory’, in which it is claimed that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is key to solving most or all of the problems of the Mideast.

Now Scowcroft, together with Zbigniew Brzezinski,  a former Carter advisor with an unclear Obama connection who is quite hostile to Israel (see “Barack Obama’s Zbig problem” for some Brzezinski quotes) has written a short op-ed in the Washington Post which some consider a “first draft of an Obama plan” for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Here is how Scowcroft and Brzezinski summarize today’s version of the linkage theory:

Resolution of the Palestinian issue would have a positive impact on the region. It would liberate Arab governments to support U.S. leadership in dealing with regional problems, as they did before the Iraq invasion. It would dissipate much of the appeal of Hezbollah and Hamas, dependent as it is on the Palestinians’ plight. It would change the region’s psychological climate, putting Iran back on the defensive and putting a stop to its swagger.

There are two false assumptions that underlie this argument. The first is that there is a way to resolve the ‘Palestinian issue’ by both sides making (or being forced to make) some reasonable compromises. No Palestinian leadership which is prepared to give up the right of return or full sovereignty in East Jerusalem can possibly survive today. And given a choice between those who advocate practical cooperation between a Palestinian state in the territories and Israel and those who promise “armed struggle” which might last hundreds of years to dislodge the Zionists from the Mideast, most Palestinians will choose the latter  option (see “What drives Palestinian politics?“).

The second (as I’ve written so many times) is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is between Israel and the Palestinians — ignoring the role played by Iran in supporting, arming and financing the terrorist proxies that it intends to use to destroy Israel. Hamas and Hezbollah are not “dependent on the Palestinians’ plight”. The ‘plight’ has been created and nurtured by Israel’s enemies as a diplomatic tool and reservoir for cannon fodder. Hamas and Hezbollah, rather, are dependent on Iranian money and weapons.

Let’s suppose that nevertheless, the US forces Israel and the Palestinian Authority to accept a ‘solution’ along the lines of the one that Scowcroft and Brzezinski are suggesting:

The major elements of an agreement are well known. A key element in any new initiative would be for the U.S. president to declare publicly what, in the view of this country, the basic parameters of a fair and enduring peace ought to be. These should contain four principal elements: 1967 borders, with minor, reciprocal and agreed-upon modifications; compensation in lieu of the right of return for Palestinian refugees; Jerusalem as real home to two capitals; and a nonmilitarized Palestinian state.

How would this put Iran on the defensive? Only the presence of the IDF in the West Bank prevents a Hamas takeover today. A Fatah-dominated state would probably last only a few weeks or months, and would be followed by a situation like that in Gaza today. Israel would then be sandwiched between Iranian-controlled Hezbollah and Syria in the north and Iranian-supported Hamas in the south and east. On the contrary, Iran would ‘swagger’ even more.

But Scowcroft and Brzezinski have a solution to the Hamas problem:

Something more might be needed to deal with Israeli security concerns about turning over territory to a Palestinian government incapable of securing Israel against terrorist activity. That could be dealt with by deploying an international peacekeeping force, such as one from NATO, which could not only replace Israeli security but train Palestinian troops to become effective.

Leaving aside the irony that NATO troops might include those from traditionally anti-Semitic Eastern European countries, can we expect that they would put their lives in danger to protect Israel any more than the UN forces in Lebanon have done? What will happen the first time a Hamas suicide bomber kills 15 or 20 NATO soldiers?

But they have an answer for this too:

To date, the weakness of the negotiating parties has limited their ability to come to an agreement by themselves. The elections in Israel scheduled for February are certainly a complicating factor, as is the deep split among Palestinians between Fatah and Hamas. But if the peace process begins to gain momentum, it is difficult to imagine that Hamas will want to be left out, and that same momentum would provide the Israeli people a unique chance to register their views on the future of their country. [my emphasis]

Here we have the persistent nonsense that Hamas will become ‘more moderate’ if given a chance to participate in a peaceful Palestinian state. But Hamas’ entire reason for being is to replace Israel with an Islamist Arab state, and to do it by force of arms. If it’s not enough to read Hamas’ charter, then consider its actions since it took control of Gaza. Either Scowcroft and Brzezinski are astonishingly naive (I doubt it) or they know what the outcome would be and find it acceptable.

And this fits in with the broad outlines of the approach toward the Middle East which has all along been urged by Scowcroft and Brzezinski (along with others that have been associated with Obama, such as Robert Malley, Samantha Power, Gen. James Jones, etc.). And that is that US policy has been ‘unbalanced’ in the pro-Israel direction (Brzezinski has even blamed the Jewish Israel lobby for this), and that American interests call for a tilt in the other direction.

One thing that all of the Arab states and Iran can agree on is that Israel should go back to pre-1967 lines. This is not because they have a great deal of compassion for the Palestinians — real, practical Palestinian interests would best have been served by making peace with Israel years ago — but because they believe correctly that it would greatly weaken Israel strategically. This will be the case until there is a popular Palestinian leadership that actually is prepared to live alongside Israel in peace — and that does not seem likely in the foreseeable future.

I would like to believe that Obama will not choose people from the Brzezinski-Scowcroft camp as his Mideast policy advisors. He took Dennis Ross with him when he visited the region before the election, and Ross is both fair and experienced in dealing with the Palestinians. But so far what has come out is not encouraging.

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