Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Obama, Netanyahu and Linkage

(BlueTruth is once again happy to present a column by our friend Lawrence White)

Obama, Netanyahu, and Linkage

By Lawrence W. White

Volumes have been written about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Books, essays, think tanks; commentators on television and radio;, newspaper articles, columns and letters to the editor; community meetings, task forces public and private; State Department and other government branches; governments all over the world, as well as the United Nations; every US President since Harry Truman. All have weighed in. with their analyses and solutions, their certainty that “if only” such and such were done, this intractable 60 year problem would be solved.

David Harris has dubbed this the “IOI syndrome”. “If only Israel ….” Thus “if only Israel” froze the settlements, removed the separation wall, stopped the “humiliating” checkpoints, recognized the government in Gaza that says it will never accept Israel, and ignored the verbal threats of annihilation from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah as propaganda for domestic consumption. “If only Israel” had not elected a hard line new government that is unwisely keeping Israel from taking actions that will guarantee peace for all eternity.

And yet the real cause of this long conflict, for anyone who has studied it closely, can be stated in two words “Arab rejectionism”. Until this problem is resolved, there can be no peace. Israel has taken risks for peace repeatedly; while the Palestinians have not accepted the presence of Israel in the neighborhood. Contrary to the media interpretations, it is the Palestinians who do not accept a two-state solution. Hamas in Gaza has repeatedly stated it will never accept the “Zionist entity”. Fatah in the West Bank, for its part, states it cannot accept the presence of a Jewish state.

For this reason, President Obama and Secretary Clinton are certain to fail in their quest for a peace agreement. They have fallen into the trap of conventional wisdom, progressive nonsense, and New York Times editorializing, namely that Israel must make concessions for a solution to be forthcoming. History has proven this wrong. All the prior steps that Israel has taken, including the offer made by Barak and Clinton at Camp David, the Oslo agreements, unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza, and countless others, have been followed by failure and accelerated bloodshed.

For the US, the ability to change the minds of the Arab street or their rulers is minimal to absent. Therefore, for those who believe they must make a deal, the only way to have a meeting of the minds is to lean on Israel to make “concessions”. According to the US view, nothing can be done about Arab rejectionism, so it needs to be largely accepted and ignored. Oh, words and promises will be made, as they have countless times before, only to be ignored by the Arab states, by the Palestinians, and most importantly by world powers including the US.

For their part, the Palestinians are wise to this game, and know they will not be required to really accept the presence of a Jewish state, so they go through the motions. (Prime Minister Abbas has already stated that he will never accept a Jewish state). Israel, for its part, knowing the process will certainly fail, also goes through the motions, but for different reasons; it must not offend the US.

And now, again, the President of the US and the Prime Minister of Israel met on May 18. . Now, there is a new dimension; the problem of Iran, and the phenomenon of linkage, with each side having a different idea of what this means (the difference being one of 180 degrees).
For Israel, linkage means solve the Iran problem first, then turn attention to an Israeli-Arab peace. The prospect of a nuclear Iran is an existential and immediate threat for Israel. It also contains within it dangers for the entire Middle East, for the US, and for Europe. And contrary to the belief by some that Iran is “pragmatic” Alan Dershowitz has pointed out that Hashemi Rifsanjani told an American journalist “[that an Iranian [nuclear] attack would kill as many as five million Jews. Rafsanjani estimated that even if Israel retaliated by dropping its own nuclear bombs, Iran would probably lose only fifteen million people, which he said would be a small 'sacrifice' from among the billion Muslims in the world.” In other words, they really mean it and need to be believed. And then there is also the strong probability that nuclear material would end up in the hands of Hezbollah, or Hamas, whose track record indicates that they would have no hesitation in using it.
For the US, linkage is the opposite. According to the Jerusalem Post, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told AIPAC recently that "the task of stopping Iran would be made easier if progress were made in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” In other words, Emanuel linked the two matters in a way opposite to that of Israel, saying that the efforts to stop Iran depended on peace talks with the Palestinians. Other administration figures have made similar statements, along with much of the media.
Alan Dershowitz points out that
“Israel has the right, indeed the obligation, to take this threat seriously and to consider it as a first priority. It will be far easier for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians if it did not have to worry about the threat of a nuclear attack or a dirty bomb. It will also be easier for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank if Iran were not arming and inciting Hamas, Hezbollah and other enemies of Israel to terrorize Israel with rockets and suicide bombers. In this respect, Emanuel has it exactly backwards: if there is any linkage, it goes the other way - defanging Iran will promote the end of the occupation and the two-state solution. Threatening not to help Israel in relation to Iran unless it moves toward a two-state solution first is likely to backfire.”
This is not the first time in history that a national leader has threatened Jews with destruction, and proved that they meant it. (When someone threatens to murder you, it is prudent to believe them.) The threat from Iran is immediate, and must be dealt with immediately. The problem of Arab rejectionism, on the other hand, will take much longer to resolve. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on the right track when he indicates that the problem needs to be approached along economic lines; most productive individuals do not want to murder their customers.

Not surprisingly, the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu was not conflictual, despite pressure from left wing activist Democrats, from European leaders, and from many of Obama’s own aides. Neither party wishes to fight with the other. President Obama simply has too many other critical problems at present, both domestic and foreign.. Further, Congress remains highly supportive of Israel, and Obama does not want to alienate his Jewish supporters, 80% of whom voted for him. On the other side, Israel wants and needs a strong US-Israel relationship, and Netanyahu is determined not to alienate the US President.

Israel will accept a two-state solution if they believe that it will truly be a solution, that it will truly result in peace. And make no mistake, Israeli leaders and Israeli citizens have historically been willing to take major risks for peace; that has not changed. But first, for peace to be achieved, the immediate existential threat emanating from Iran, and the long-standing presence of Arab rejectionism, must be eliminated.