This weblog entry explores the idea of "linkage" between Arab-Israeli issues and the larger world, an argument dear to those who wish to find an argument to push the Israeli government to make unilateral concessions to the Arabs. .
A companion weblog entry, "Arguing against Israeli as the Key to the Middle East," records important arguments against this notion of "linkage."
To start things off, here is Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator from Nebraska:
If we fail in peace-making between Israel and her neighbors, there will be grave consequences for the United States, Israel, and the world. ... Actions in the Middle East have immense consequences for our other policies and interests in the world. We are limited in dealing with other conflicts until this conflict is on a path to resolution. America's policy and role in the Middle East, and the perception of our policies and role across the globe, affects our policies and interests in Afghanistan, South Asia, Indonesia, and all parts of the world.
(June 14, 2002)
May 12, 2008 update: Barrack Obama replied when asked as a candidate for president, "Do you think that Israel is a drag on America's reputation overseas?":
No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this.
June 12, 2008 update: Martin Kramer published today "The Myth of Linkage," in Middle East Strategy at Harvard.
July 27, 2008 update: Obama returned to this theme two months later:
If we can solve the Israeli/Palestinian process, then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan. It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region. If we've gotten an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon.
So we've got to take all these issues, and I think the next president has to start very quickly in moving both on the peace process forward and still recognizing that issues like Iran are connected and of extraordinary priority.
Mar. 19, 2009 update: I published today an article, "Explaining Obama's Fixation with Israel," in which I look closely at a 2009 statement by James L. Jones, then Obama's national security adviser, I explain it resulting from "of a strange belief mainly on the Left, rarely stated overtly, that this issue is key not just to the Middle East but to world problems." Top Obama administration officials quoted in this article include Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and David Petreaus.
cautioned that Israel was unlikely to gain support for thwarting Iran unless there were visible efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood. "For Israel to get the kind of strong support it's looking for vis-a-vis Iran it can't stay on the sideline with respect to the Palestinian and the peace efforts, that they go hand-in-hand," Clinton said.
Clinton noted that every Arab official she has met with "wants very much to support the strongest possible policy toward Iran." But, she said, "they believe that Israel's willingness to reenter into discussions with the Palestinian Authority strengthens them in being able to deal with Iran." She said the Obama administration was seeking to coordinate the Arab and Israeli positions so the unusual dynamic of unity on Iran could be exploited. "We have to sort of get everybody together in one place, which hasn't yet happened, to figure out how that can proceed," she said.
May 18, 2009 update: Obama then added ten months later:
To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians -- between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat.
Mar. 16, 2010 update: David Petraeus, the head of Central Command (which focuses on Egypt, the Middle East, and Central Asia), voiced another main reason why the U.S. government obsesses over an Arab-Israeli resolution; that it obstructs U.S. diplomacy in their area of responsibility (AOR). He told congress in March 2010 that the Arab-Israeli
conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas.
Jan. 16, 2013 update: Martin Kramer, "Chuck Hegel and Linkage," takes advantage of Obama's nomination in January 2013 of the former senator from Nebraska to secretary of defense to take a close look at his comments on this topic from 2002 on and to piece together the mentality behind its magical thinking.
July 25, 2013 update: Another head of CENTCOM, James Mattis put it this way:
I paid a military security price every day as the commander of CentCom because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that moderates all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can't come out publicly in support of people who don't show respect for the Arab Palestinians.
Mattis bewailed the lack of diplomatic progress, saying it "shortstops a lot of support for us because all politics are local... And I would just tell you that they can't come out in support of us if we don't see some progress where Secretary [of State John] Kerry is wisely focused like a laser beam right now."
Sep. 8, 2013 update: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry supports the linkage thesis, arguing that the Arab-Israeli conflict must be solved first: Referring to his talks with Arab League officials, Kerry noted that "We all of us agreed that a final status agreement is important in enhancing regional security and stability throughout the Middle East."
Sep. 24, 2013 update: Barack Obama has again endorsed the linkage thesis, now in a speech at the United Nations: "Real breakthroughs on these two issues -- Iran's nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace -- would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa."
Nov. 6, 2013 updates: (1) Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to describe the main American strategic interests in Middle East and got this answer:
The main strategic interests have not changed, I don't think, from administration to administration. A peace settlement with the Israelis and the Palestinians, which has been Bush policy, Clinton policy, going back to Bush 41. ... If there's an Israeli-Palestinian solution -- one of the things is, you can't have hope or prosperity without stability and some security. It's impossible to do.
Comment: There it is again, the Israeli-Palestinian issue as the most important U.S. interest in the Middle East.
(2) And here it is, the linkage theory made operational: Ma'ariv reports that the Obama administration has informed the Israeli government that progress in its diplomacy with the Palestinian Authority makes it "easier for the US to support Israel's position" in negotiations with Iran and less likely that economic sanctions on Iran will be reduced.
Almost to the leader, Middle Easterners raise the Arab-Israeli conflict. We hear frequently that this issue influences many other issues. Some even say that it underpins all the issues of the region but I don't agree. We do all agree, however, that if you can make progress here, you make other issues easier, even if this does not solve them.
Oct. 16, 2014 update: John Kerry just turned linkage around and blamed the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) on the lack of Israeli-Palestinian accord. Recounted to a primarily Muslim audience (at a State Department Eid al-Adha dinner) his recent travels in the Middle East, Kerry stated:
As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the [anti-]ISIL coalition, the truth is there wasn't a leader I met with in the region who didn't raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to. And people need to understand the connection of that. And it has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity, and Eid celebrates the opposite of all of that.
So what we need to do is recognize that we need to build peace through specific partnerships. One partnership is specifically the effort to try to drive towards this peace, to have a compromise, to find a way to create two states[, Israeli and Palestinian,] that can live together side by side, two peoples, with both of their aspirations being respected. I still believe that's possible, and I still believe we need to work towards it.
Comments: (1) It was always latent in the optimism of linkage that if there's no Israeli-Palestinian accord, Israel would get blamed. (2) This gives the Palestinians great incentives not to reach an accord. (3) Kerry is an unmitigated airhead.
Oct. 17, 2014 update: Kerry left it to an aide, his deputy spokesperson Marie Harf, to clean up the mess, which she valiantly but ingloriously attempted to do when asked if "the secretary went a little bit too far."
he did not make any linkage between Israel and the growth of ISIL, period. And we can go back over what he actually said, which I have in front of me. He did not make that linkage. What he was saying is in the course of his work, do leaders in Europe and in the Middle East tell him that they like that the U.S. wants to try to achieve peace? Of course they do. Do the leaders think peace would help create a more stable region? Of course they do.
I have what he actually said in front of me too and it's clear that, after reporting on his interlocutors, Kerry endorsed their views: "people need to understand the connection of that." It could not be more clear.
Harf then went on, four times, to reiterate that Kerry broke no new ground but simply reiterated the old bromide that resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict would help stabilize the Middle East:
That is in no way a news flash. It's something that presidents of both parties for decades have said, that if we could make progress on Middle East peace, that would help create a more stable region, and the Secretary was agreeing with what has been said publicly. ...
Various presidents, including the previous President, George W. Bush, spoke out about this, saying that if we could achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, that would create a more stable region writ large, in general. ...
as he travels around the world building a global coalition to defeat ISIL, which is an avowed enemy of Israel – the Secretary, helping to put together this coalition to defeat an enemy that has said they're an avowed enemy of Israel, that he hears from people in conversations, as we have for many years, that if we could resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that would help create a more stable region. In no way was he directly linking Israel and the growth of ISIL, at all. ...
American presidents and secretaries of state of both parties have said that if we can achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, it would be a blow to the region's extremists. Yes, they've said that.
Comment: Add Marie Harf to those Obama administration officials who endorse linkage. She makes up in volume what she lacks in stature.
Dec. 26, 2014 update: Gabriel Scheinmann published "Copernicus and America's Blame Israel Problem," in The National Interest.
Oct. 23, 2015 update: Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament: "Frieden im Nahen Osten ist nur möglich, wenn die Mutter aller Konflikte, die Auseinandersetzung zwischen Israelis und Palästinensern, gelöst wird" ("Peace in the Middle East is only possible if the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the mother of all conflicts, is resolved").
July 25, 2016 update: In an analysis of Saudi-Israeli relations, Simon Henderson quotes conflicting views on linkage. First Anwar Eshki, the Saudi visiting Israel:
There will be no peace with the Arab countries before there is peace with the Palestinians...The Israel-Palestinian conflict is not the source of terrorism, but it does create fertile ground for acts of terrorism in the region. If the conflict is resolved, the countries that exploit the Palestinian issue, namely Iran, will no longer be able to capitalize on it.
Then Eshki's main interlocutor, Dore Gold, the director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Twenty, thirty years ago, everyone said 'solve the Palestinian issue and you'll have peace with the Arab world.' Increasingly we are becoming convinced it's the exact opposite. It's a different order we have to create. And that's what we're going to do.
Comment: It's good to see the differing interpretations discussed face to face.
Jan. 16, 2017 update: President François Hollande of France, host of a Middle East "peace conference" in Paris: "How can we expect stability in the Middle East without solving the oldest conflict in the region?"
François Hollande and friends, looking pleased with themselves, at his conference.
Mar. 29, 2017 update: Here we go again. Jason Greenblatt, Trump's Special Representative for International Negotiations, expressed his belief after his first trip to the Middle East that a comprehensive agreement between Israelis and Palestinians "would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world."