WASHINGTON — On May 18, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had their first meeting. President Obama emerged from the meeting with these words:
“If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. To the extent that we can make peace to the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I think that it actually strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the Iranian threat.”
This line of thought is feckless.
First, it shows an unwillingness to enter into a necessary paradigm shift acknowledging what is going on within the hearts and minds of the region. It assumes allegiance to statehood is the primary source of identification and behavioral, motivating factor when, in fact, the spirit that has captured the imagination of many in the Muslim and Arab world, particularly the youth, is loyalty to fundamentalist Islamism. This is far more pernicious than dealing with issues of loyalty to statehood. The latter becomes a regnant part of one’s very identity, and particularly when dealing with promises of an afterlife, the stakes that they are willing to risk are infinitely higher.
One explanation for this is satellite television, which has brought romantic images of the shahid and the suicide bomber into every Arab and Muslim living room. Yet many in the Washington policy establishment stubbornly adhere to an outmoded paradigm of allegiance to the state as being the regnant factor of identification and affiliation, and therefore the primary compelling factor for behavior within the Middle East.
A recent poll taken by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Polling Research indicates that if the Israel Defense Forces were to leave the West Bank today — and free and independent elections were to be held — an overwhelming majority of Palestinians would vote for Hamas, an Iranian proxy, over Fatah. It is only due to the finely honed skills of the IDF that Fatah is in power today.
The “land for peace” paradigm has been empirically proven to have the antithetical result of empowering precisely the enemies who despise both Israel, the Minor Satan, and the United States, the Great Satan, equally.
We cannot ignore the evidence of what happened to Gaza since the summer of 2005, when Israel made the internally gut-wrenching decision to uproot every last Jew in order to give the Palestinians an opportunity for statehood. That following January, Gazans went to the polls, and freely and independently selected the terrorist group Hamas. Since then more than 10,000 Kassam rockets have been launched from Gaza, making life for people in southern Israel a living hell.
Iran is a destabilizing influence, seeking to flex its muscles with hegemonic ambitions over the entire region. The Palestinian territories are their gymnasium. Hamas gets a great deal of its commands, equipment, money and training directly from Tehran.
On March 5, Hamas and Iran held a conference in Tehran probing ways to work closer together to promote “resistance against Israel.” Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khoumeni opened the conference by calling Israel “a cancerous tumor” and claiming “resistance against the Zionist entity is the only way to save the Palestinians.”
Therefore, immediate withdrawal, whether one says it is for the sake of peace or not, will simply empower Iran, not the other way around.
Finally, in Iran, we are dealing with a toxic combination of state-sanctioned incitement to commit genocide and a full-throttled technological exertion to do so. Israel does not have the strategic depth to absorb one atomic bomb, making this an existential issue.
The essential question becomes: Will the Obama administration use the Iranian nuclear threat as leverage to extract concessions out of Israel, therefore buying itself goodwill within the international arena, while Iran uses this time as a smokescreen to bring to fruition its talk of genocide?
(Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the EMET: Endowment for Middle East Peace, a pro-Israel think tank and policy shop in Washington.)