(photo credit: AP)
Unless America wins the war in Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation will not move forward, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain told Jewish leaders Tuesday.
McCain spoke as part of a series of Election 2008 discussions with major presidential candidates organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
He warned that if America withdrew prematurely from Iraq, the Iranians would fill the void - referring to comments made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month.
In response to a question about reports suggesting that Egypt was about to restart its nuclear program, McCain said: "One side effect of the Iranian nuclear program is proliferation in the region."
"All of the conflicts in the Middle East are connected, they are all part of the rise of Islamic extremism," said McCain. "If we succeed in Iraq, other countries will be more inclined to help us and this will take the pressure off Israel."
McCain hashed out these ideas in greater detail in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs. The consequences of failure in Iraq would be "horrific" - "A historic loss at the hands of Islamist extremists who, after having defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the United States in Iraq, will believe that the world is going their way and that anything is possible."
The senator warns that unless America "wins" in Iraq, the country could become a safe haven for terrorists, and a civil war could develop into a larger regional conflict.
"That is why I support our continuing efforts to win in Iraq," writes McCain. "It is also why I oppose a preemptive withdrawal strategy that has no Plan B for the aftermath of its inevitable failure and the greater problems that would ensue."
With regards to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, McCain told Jewish leaders that he believed the process had to be "step-by-step."
"An all-encompassing process was tried by Clinton, and was very hard," said McCain. The process, he said should entail "confidence building." Ground rules should be established, and leaders should lay out what is and isn't negotiable. "I'm a bit reluctant to say what should happen, first, second and third, because then it becomes a target of intransigence."
Asked his thoughts about a Palestinian state, McCain said it should be the "ultimate end," but first there needed to be "peace," which he later explained as security and an end to terror. "The long-elusive quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians must remain a priority," McCain wrote in Foreign Affairs. "But the goal must be genuine peace, and so Hamas must be isolated even as the United States intensifies its commitment to finding an enduring settlement."
McCain also mentioned his interest in establishing a League of Democracies, which would act where the UN failed in places such as Darfur, or combating HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, or creating better policies to confront environmental crises.
The executive director of the conference, Malcolm Hoenlein, said McCain appropriately saw the "interrelation" of matters. "You can't look at the issues in isolation, they are all interrelated," said Hoenlein. "He is not a flamboyant personally, but on the international agenda he has knowledge and understanding of both the dynamics and the facts on ground."