'US shouldn't link Iran, Palestinians'

Source close to Netanyahu: Arab states themselves don't want Obama to conflate the two issues.

Obama side on 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Obama side on 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The linkage reportedly being made by Obama administration officials between efforts to thwart the Iranian nuclear threat and progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace is flawed, a source close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. Earlier this month, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was quoted by Israeli TV channels as saying that forming a coalition of moderate Arab states to confront Iran would be made easier by significant progress in talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Such a link was not only being rejected by Israel, it faces widespread opposition from Arab states, the source said, speaking as Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama on Monday evening. "The Arab states themselves don't want this link, it doesn't serve their interest," the source said. "The Arab states certainly want progress with the Palestinians, and would be pleased to see US pressure on Israel, but the Iranian threat is more important to them and it worries them more than the Palestinian issue. They believe the Palestinian track must not be tied to Iran, and this is the message Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak transmitted to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. [He said], 'Don't do a grand bargain with the Iranians.'" The source candidly expressed Israel's opposition to the linkage, saying, "Will Israel be held hostage [by this linkage] when there is such a big threat hanging over the Middle East, and over the Americans, too?" He added, "The Israeli government is saying that this linkage is flawed, practically and morally. If a linkage exists, it is a reverse linkage, because if the Iranians create a nuclear bomb, the entire power balance will shift [in Iran's favor], and extremists like Hizbullah and Hamas will be setting the tone." When that happens, "you can bid the peace process farewell. Israel will be not be facing [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas, but rather, surrogates of Iran." The linkage being made by Washington "creates indirect and direct pressure on Israel to accept US proposals on two states," the source said. "Otherwise, the US won't agree to work on Iran." "Logically, we all know that unfortunately the creation of an international front against Iran failed largely because of China and Russia, and not for other reasons," he added. "The Palestinian issue does not interest China and Russia." Prof. Eytan Gilboa, of Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said the Arab opposition to US engagement with Iran was reminiscent of the opposition of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to a plan proposed by US president Jimmy Carter to accomplish "an overall Middle Eastern arrangement involving Russia and the PLO." "We know that Sadat flipped out when he heard about Carter's plans," Gilboa said. "Currently, it will be difficult for Netanyahu to convince Obama to change his world view," he added. "Obama doesn't want Israel to use force against Iran in any way. So this is very complex. I believe Obama's attempts at diplomacy with Iran will fail. What guarantees are there that Iran will halt its nuclear work after an agreement is reached? We can see how former US President George Bush totally failed to stop North Korea," Gilboa said. Netanyahu will have to find a way to avoid "creating too big a division and to stay in the American camp. He must work out how to minimize the differences of opinion," he added. This will be made all the more difficult in light of the fact that "no one in the Obama administration trusts Netanyahu." Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to Washington, said former US administrations had created similar linkages in the past. "This is not a new thing, and I'm sure officials at the State Department are aware of the precedents. After the 1979 Camp David peace accords, Carter attempted to link aid to Israel with a halting of settlements and progress with the Palestinians." "During the Gulf War in 1991, [then-secretary of state] James Baker linked Arab cooperation with America against Saddam Hussein to steps aimed resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In effect, this resulted in the 1991 Madrid peace conference," Shoval said.