by David M. Weinberg
From the first day, the Obama administration has suggested to Israel that resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would help the administration "line up its ducks" across the Arab world to confront Iran.
In other words, the administration implicitly, and at times explicitly, created linkage between the Palestinian and Iranian diplomatic issues. The pressure was on Israel to concede and compromise with the Palestinians so that Washington could "better" tackle the Iranian nuclear threat.
Now that the administration is seeking detente with Iran -- a detente that explicitly includes American acceptance of Iran's nuclear enrichment program to a certain degree -- the linkage argument has lost its force.
Not only does Washington no longer "need" Israeli concessions to the Palestinians to draft moderate Arab countries into a coalition against Iran, but the U.S. has lost the support of the same Arab countries it wished to draft, such as Saudi Arabia. Without connection to anything Palestinian, President Barack Obama has pushed Israelis and Saudis into a coalition more than ever before, against both Teheran and Washington.
At the Saban Forum in Washington last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu reverted to a linkage argument of his own. Netanyahu said the efforts to negotiate a peace arrangement between the Palestinians and Israel "will come to nothing if Iran succeeds in building atomic bombs. A nuclear-armed Iran would give even greater backing to the radical and terrorist elements in the region. It would undermine the chances of arriving at a negotiated peace. I would say it would undermine those peace agreements that we have already reached with two of our neighbors."
Netanyahu's argument for linkage is diametrically opposed to the Obama administration's contention. For Netanyahu, the linkage is in reverse. The rollback of Iran is necessary for peace with the Palestinians to emerge, and not vice versa.
It's hard to imagine the flimsy regime of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas surviving an Iranian-backed Hamas assault on a peace accord with Israel as long as Iran continues to ride high and mighty in the region.
The Palestinians also make a link between their issue and the Iranian issue. Specifically, they learned from the American diplomatic collapse in Geneva to give Washington no concessions in terms of territory, refugees or border controls. After all, the Palestinians see that Iran's persistence in retaining all its nuclear properties pays off. Washington acquiesced in the easing of sanctions against Iran without Teheran really giving up any significant hard assets.
Abbas learns from this to hang tough and wait for Washington to shunt Israel's concerns aside, just as Obama did on the Iranian issue in Geneva.
In the present situation, Netanyahu has, quite bluntly, even less reason to trust the Obama administration than he did before. Netanyahu should now be saying to Obama: If you're not going to protect Israel and the region from the Iranians, expect less cooperation from me on other files. You screwed Israel over Bushehr, so don't expect me to give you Yitzhar. America is not the only party that can play linkage politics.
David M. Weinberg
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