American-Israeli relations will remain in the tank until either Jerusalem’s government crumbles or President Obama changes his mind about the peace process. In either case Obama has linked that process to American action to stop Iran from acquiring atomic weapons — an existential threat to Israel — while Tehran undermines the process to keep America off-balance. These actions doom Mideast peace and guarantee Iran becomes a nuclear power.
In 2008, then-presidential candidate Obama promised that once elected he would make Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority. Until two weeks ago, team Obama was moving the peace process to indirect talks. Then the Israeli government announced its intention to build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, an area the Palestinians claim belongs to them.
That announcement, which corresponded with a state visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, embarrassed the Obama Administration and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas immediately called off the talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to Washington to repair the damage. Obama hosted Netanyahu in the Oval Office without the normal fanfare associated with head of state visits — no photo opportunities, press briefing or statement following the session. The President demanded Netanyahu grant dramatic concessions to win back the Palestinians. But Netanyahu knows satisfying Obama’s demands would destroy his right-leaning government.
But this crisis is also about stopping Iran before it has atomic weapons. Last year, Obama linked the peace process to stopping Tehran’s atomic weapons program. At the time Obama told Netanyahu to cooperate on Mideast peace, which he did, and then Obama would in time take the necessary actions against Iran. But Obama has made no progress stopping Iran’s atomic program in part because Iran is destabilizing the peace process.
Tehran is aiding the Palestinians with arms and training to prevent the Americans, already tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, from taking action to stop its atomic program. Specifically, Tehran encouraged the recent meeting between Abbas agents and Palestinian Hamas to mend their differences and launch a third intifada, an uprising against Israel, to de-legitimize efforts to restart negotiations with Israel.
Consider what the five key peace-process players hope to accomplish and why their cross purposes doom the process.
First, Obama wants Mideast peace to relieve pressure on other crises. That view came to a head last week when U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of American forces in the Mideast, explained that Arab leaders “claim that because there is no progress diplomatically [on the Palestinian issue], the only way to get progress is through violence.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates agrees with Petraeus. “The lack of progress toward Middle East peace is clearly an issue that’s exploited by our adversaries in the region,” Gates said.
Obama shares that view but it’s wishful thinking that Mideast peace will translate into help on other fronts. Perhaps Obama believes peace will buy Arab cooperation in places like Iraq, where U.S. forces plan to withdraw by December 2011. Or Arabs could help in Afghanistan by defunding the Taliban and al Qaeda, which would help America’s troubled strategy. Or more wishful thinking: Arab oil producing nations could use their economic leverage to persuade China and Russia to cooperate on sanctions against Iran and pressure Tehran to abandon atomic weapons.
Second, Israel’s government is in a bind because Netanyahu has competing policy objectives. He wants to resolve the Palestinian problem and ensure Iran doesn’t acquire atomic weapons. But realizing both objectives may be impossible because if he concedes to Obama’s peace demands to secure America’s action against Iran, his coalition government would crumble, yet there is no guarantee peace is possible or Iran can be stopped.
Reportedly, Obama listed 13 demands for Netanyahu to kick-start the peace process. That list includes freezing all building in East Jerusalem, reducing Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, releasing 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, and agreeing to address core issues — such as the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees — early in any talks.
But even if Netanyahu delivers these concessions less than one-in-ten Israelis believe Obama is trustworthy, according to a poll conducted for the Jerusalem Post. That explains their deep skepticism that Obama will be equitable in the peace process or take the necessary action to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic weapons.
Third, Palestinians, despite their public pronouncements to the contrary, are the first to destroy any advance toward peace and are the primary initiators of conflict in the region. After all, they used the Jerusalem construction announcement as an excuse to walk out of negotiations yet Obama shows no understanding the Palestinians are the major factor blocking the peace process.
Maybe that’s why Netanyahu asked Obama to put the same kind of pressure on the Palestinians that he is putting on Israel. Where is the “reciprocity,” asked the prime minister.
That lack of “reciprocity” shows Obama’s hypocrisy. Consider this recent illustration: Obama held Netanyahu responsible for the construction announcement which was made by an underling. But during Biden’s recent visit, Obama didn’t hold President Abbas responsible when his government, the Palestinian Authority, presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah, their capitol, for Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah woman who led the 1978 “Coastal Road” massacre in which 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, were butchered.
Fourth, the Arabs routinely use the Palestinians as a lightening rod to draw domestic attention away from their own totalitarian abuses. But they divide themselves into two camps regarding the solution: the “Resistance Camp,” which includes Iran, Syria and Qatar — supports violence against Israel, and the “Moderate Camp,” — led by Saudi Arabia — supports a political solution.
Those camps came together over the weekend at the 22-member Arab League summit in Libya. The “Resistance Camp” promoted intifada and rescinding the Arab Peace Initiative — a 2002 initiative that normalizes Arab-Israeli relations in exchange for complete withdrawal from the occupied territories. But the “Moderate Camp” rejected violence, believing that would lead to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank and serve Iran’s radical interests.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Arab states should prepare for the possibility that the peace process may be a total failure and should have alternatives in place. The summit did adopt “an action plan for saving” Jerusalem and committed $500 million “to counter Israel’s moves in the city.” It also announced a plan to appeal to the International Court of Justice to demand a stop to settlement construction.
Finally, the mullahs in Tehran seek to destabilize the peace process, dominate the Mideast, and field atomic-tipped ballistic missiles to intimidate the world.
Iran destabilizes the peace process by encouraging intifada among Palestinians but just as serious are its hegemonic actions that evoke fear among moderate Arab states.
It holds great sway over Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, northern Yemen and growing influence in Turkey. Recently the National Iraqi Alliance, a political party dominated by Tehran proxy and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, won 70 seats in the new Baghdad parliament. Sadr is expected to join Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of the Law party to form a pro-Iran government. Last week, Gen. Petraeus confirmed Tehran is arming Afghan Taliban and harbors al Qaeda operatives. Iran also aids the al-Houthi Shia rebels in Yemen and has growing influence with the more Islamic-leaning government in Ankara.
It is tempting to lay out the conditions under which peace will come — in favor of Israel, the Arabs or the U.S. However, history shows that since 1948 all “logical” attempts have failed and this one, which is so clearly biased in favor of the Palestinians, is also doomed. The kicker is Iran will become an atomic power due to Obama’s neglect, which will completely destabilize the region.