Analysis: Burying linkage between peace process, Iran

While US maintains that solving Palestinian conflict is key to peace, Israel's position is to first deal with Iran - neutralize it.

By
November 30, 2010 00:59
4 minute read.
Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu

Obama Netanyahu at White House 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Since the earliest days of Barack Obama’s presidency, there have been two major conceptual differences between how Israel and how the US administration view the Middle East.

The first difference has to do with the region. While the US maintains that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum is the key to unlocking peace in the Middle East and getting other countries in the region on board to help stop the Iranian threat, Israel’s position is to first deal with Iran – neutralize it – which will then make it easier to reach an accord with the Palestinians.

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Israel’s logic is that Hamas and Hizbullah – Iran’s two proxies – will be much less able to gum up the works whenever diplomatic progress looms if Iran is defanged.

The second key conceptual difference has to do with how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the US still tied into the land-forpeace formula – Israel gives up land and gets peace in return – and much of Israel, bitten badly by reality, no longer convinced that formula is relevant.

And along comes the cache of WikiLeaks documents and reveals that Obama’s linkage of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iran is nothing short of fiction – a fiction he and his key aides have been spinning since the beginning of his tenure.

At his very first White House meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in May 2009, that famous meeting in which Obama called for a complete halt to all settlement construction, Obama was asked what he thought about Israel’s position that only if the Iranian threat were solved could there be real progress on the Palestinian track.

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“Well, let me say this,” Obama said. “There’s no doubt that it is difficult for any Israeli government to negotiate in a situation in which they feel under immediate threat. That’s not conducive to negotiations. And as I’ve said before, I recognize Israel’s legitimate concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon when they have a president who has in the past said that Israel should not exist. That would give any leader of any country pause.

“Having said that,” the president went on, “if there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. 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 a potential Iranian threat.”

And that position, that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue – that stopping settlement construction – would somehow magically mollify the Arab world and get it to put its shoulder to the wheel regarding Iran has been a constant thread throughout the Obama regime. Here it was popularly dubbed “Yitzhar for Bushehr.”

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What the WikiLeaks cache revealed, however, was that this argument was a fabrication. There was no need to crack the Palestinian-Israeli nut before getting the “moderate” Arab nations in the region – Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan – on board regarding Iran, because those nations were already fully camped out on board the deck of the ship, just waiting for action against Iran.

Now this doesn’t mean efforts should not be made toward trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but don’t say the reason is to get the Arabs to stop Iran.

The following quotes from Arab leaders culled from the WikiLeaks trove do not exactly portray a picture of leaders who need any further enticements before “getting on board.”

• Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, quoted by the monarchy’s envoy to the US in 2008 as exhorting the US to attack Iran and end its nuclear weapons program, said in reference to Iran – according to one cable – that it was necessary to “cut the head of the snake.”

• King Hamad of Bahrain was quoted in 2009 as saying, “That program [the Iranian nuclear program] must be stopped. The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”

• Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed in 2009 urged the US, according to another cable, not to appease Teheran and said, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.”

• Maj-Gen. Muhammad al-Assar, assistant to the Egyptian defense minister, was quoted in a cable in 2010 as saying that “Egypt views Iran as a threat to the region.”

Obama was obviously well aware of the views of these leaders, most of whom he personally met, yet he continued to propagate what he must have known to be a falsehood – that these countries would only sign on to sanctions and otherwise support efforts to neutralize Iran if there were progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

Obviously these countries wanted to see progress on that track, but this desire had nothing to do with Iran. Nor would an Israeli-Palestinian accord lead them to be supportive of aggressive steps toward Iran, because they were already practically dreaming of those steps.

To link the two issues – the conflict with the Palestinians, and Iran – was to badly muddle the issue. Why exactly Obama felt compelled to do so is one of the key questions the WikiLeaks documents raised in relation to our region.

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