Monday, May 4, 2009

It's not that he doesn't support Israel, it's just that he doesn't know how

First Hilary Clinton and now Rahm Emanuel. Both have now said that thwarting Iran hinges on solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Clinton said it a few weeks ago, and Emanuel said it to a group of AIPAC donors yesterday. This is very much at odds with reality, which essentially says the opposite thing: the biggest obstacle to the conflict is Iran.

The Obama administration has been firing on all cylinders with the pitch that the two are interdependent. Their claim is that the best way Israel can confront Iran is with Arab support, which they will only get so long as they push hard for a two-state solution. There are significant problems with this position, however.

To begin with, the timeline does not support this approach. For a viable Palestinian state, among many issues (see the reoccurring Conflict 101 series of posts), a stable, functioning, and respected set of Palestinian institutions must be operational and a stable and respected international Palestinian economy must be present along with a education system that teaches coexistence. Because of this, the goal a Palestinian state is, realistically, much further off than a denuclearized Iran – to wait for a peace agreement would mean a nuclear Iran.

The Obama line of reasoning continues the preposterous notion that the conflict is political and geographical. To say that a land-for-peace deal would ensure long-term stability is a misrepresentation of the conflict. The land-for-peace notion assumes an Arab acceptance of Israeli legitimacy, which so far only two Arab countries have formally acquiesced to. For two parties to enter into negotiation, a tacit understanding must be that both sides accept the existence of the other. This cannot simply be skimmed over.

The Arab countries who oppose a nuclear Iran (all but three, including Iran) do not view that issue as one related to Israel in the same way the President does. Israel is considered a nuclear state, the only such state in the Levant, yet no Arab country safe Iran plus two is making the claim that a nuclear Arab state is needed to neutralize this Israeli advantage. Rather, they fear a nuclear Iran as a significant destabilizing force in the region. The Arabs understand that a nuclear Iran threatens their safety and they know Israel’s existence does not. The Obama administration has not realized this.

In fact, the Obama position is so wrong here that the chances of these Arab states ending their support for a two-state solution only increase with a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran completely redistributes the balance of power in the Middle East. Tenuous US allies such as Turkey and the UAE, both of whom support a two-state solution, are expected to reorient themselves with Iran should Iran become a nuclear power (we are already seeing the beginnings of this in the increasing economic ties with Iran from Arab states including Turkey and the UAE).

The big obstacle to peace is not the settlements, it is not the “occupation”, it is Iran. Since Iran sponsors Hezbollah in the east, Hamas in the south, and Syria in the north (all of whom reject Israel’s right to exist and seek its destruction), the key to peace is to declaw Iran. A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians does not affect the mission of Hezbollah or Hamas nor Iran's ability to support them, and does nothing to challenge either’s abilities to attack Israel. Therefore, a peace agreement with the Palestinians does nothing to address the source of violence against Israel. Israel’s role in the Palestinian territories can be ended much easier once Iran is neutered because there is much less risk of Iranian weapons and supplies being used against Israel.

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