Linking the Iranian and Palestinian Issues could Severely Backfire

by Gedalyah Reback

Linking the Nuclear and Peace Issues

The US has been pushing a policy to link progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with the help Israel needs to combat Iran. But this necessitates that the US, Europe and Arab states are correct to think that successful developments in either the -Palestinian or -Syrian peace negotiations would stifle Iranian power and imperialism.

The Iranians have proven just how divided they are regarding overtures from the United States. The Roxana Saberi case put pressure on President Obama. If the Iranians had continued to hold her for the duration of her sentence (8 years), it would have been unpopular among Americans to continue those overtures. They would have proven futile, and thus the leverage on the Israelis would evaporate. Given that the Obama administration is trying to push a narrative that links the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to other issues in the region, the Israelis would be able to argue that they must continue an assertive stance vis-a-vis the Iranians, and hence vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

The Obama Administration is not clear of this possibility yet. Iranian elections next month, which will probably see a run-off between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his liberal opponent Mir Hussein Moussavi go to the incumbent, would raise this question to the foreground. Considering how divided the most powerful figures in Iran’s regime are regarding any dialogue, much less any deals with the United States and Europe, promising the Israelis fruit on the Iranian front in exchange for extreme leniency on the -Palestinian front would all become shallow.

From Obama’s Eyes

The Obama Administration’s priority though is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is the Iranians. But the administration does see the Iranian issue as optimal leverage on the Israelis to push them into a two-state solution. This is helped by seeing the issue in the reverse, as most people see it, that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a subsequent deal are supposed to be the lightning rod that will strike the political agenda of Iran’s current regime. If the Obama Administration’s promised results do not come after some agreement with either the Palestinians or the Syrians, the neglected peace negotiations will be totally undermined.

The best chance the Obama Administration has to push the Iranians and both Israeli peace scenarios, proven by the sense of urgency in the last couple weeks by governments around the world, would be to see Ahmadinejad lose the upcoming election to a more pragmatic figure. If a reformer were to win, such as Moussavi, that would provide Obama every reason in the world to open full dialogue and relations with the Iranians, promise the Israelis relations with the Iranians as part of either these two peace tracks or the regional peace plan, and of course stabilize the Middle East.

US Pressure on Israel in Connection with Progress on the Iran Front

But the administration seems to be banking that some sort of breakthrough before the Iranian elections would guarantee this scenario more than any direct negotiations between the US and Iranians would.

Insightful people have seen the overt pressure by Vice President Biden and Rahm Emanuel urging a two-state solution as a way of forcing the Netanyahu government to opt for the two-state solution as part of its foreign policy once the Prime Minister finishes his “policy review” in the next couple weeks. But that policy review and its conclusions will also precede the Iranian elections on June 12th, and the Lebanese elections on June 7th.

But again, Iran could now be holding the cards into Israel’s next move. If Iran pushes the US away, Israel will lose incentives (as the Obama Administration sees it) to work toward what the US and rest of the world accept as irrevocable policy on the Middle East conflict.

Lebanon’s politics are much more complicated, and might not be effected by anything the Israelis do regarding the Palestinians or Syrians. Lebanese have reasons to fear if Israel is at war with Hizbullah and Syria, and also have reasons to fear if the Syrians gain a disproportionate advantage in a peace agreement with the Israelis (that would involve the US trading security on the Iraqi border in exchange for Syrian influence over Lebanon).

If the Iranian Track Fails

The Arab states would more readily work with the Israelis than the Iranians, and so the Netanyahu government would probably keep pushing its positions on the West Bank and Syrians. Hence, it risks a flare up in the West Bank if there is nothing substantial politically between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (Jerusalem and Ramallah).

This would be the backfire. If Obama continues, or strengthens this rhetorical link between two or among three or more issues, a failure on one side of the equation would provide political reason for parties to back out on the other fronts.

Hizbullah will undoubtedly gain some more clout as tensions would probably worsen between Israel and Lebanon (though that was inevitable no matter if Livni had formed the current Israeli government, but under Netanyahu things might be even more tense). It is tough to see what the Syrians would do, but it certainly wouldn’t be changing its policies toward Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas (though it’s debatable to what extent it would under a peace deal anyway).

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