The New Linkage
12/12/2013 - 18:37
Douglas Bloomfield

For as long as I can recall we've been told by the people who are supposed to be foreign policy experts that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the source of instability in the Middle East.  Solve that, they preach, and all the other problems can be solved.  

Two of the most prominent advocates of that theory are Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisors to Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, respectively.  In the view of all four men and their "realist" school of linkage, the heart of the problem is Israeli settlements, remove them and move all the Jews out of the West Bank and peace and love will spread throughout the region.

Linkage is most popular among Israel's critics, who see the Jewish state at the heart of the regions problems.

For anyone who still believes in this discredited theory I have two words:  Arab Spring.

Three years ago next week, a young Tunisian fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi, unable to find a job and fed up with corrupt officials who wouldn’t even let him sell his produce on the streets of his town, doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze.

By the time he died of his burns in mid-January he had ignited a popular uprising that still engulfs the Arab world, even if the hope he sparked has largely been extinguished by new tyrants.

Over these three chaotic years, the Arab Spring has become a nightmare. Just look at Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and, especially, Syria, where more than 100,000 have been killed and over two million have become refugees.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, “None of these is rooted in our dispute with the Palestinians.”

And he’s right.

But the old theory of linkage has been replaced with a new one, and its leading advocate is Netanyahu himself. 

In his view, there can be no peace agreement with the Palestinians until the Iranian nuclear threat is removed. 

Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel this week to tell him differently.  Both tracks can and should be pursued simultaneously and neither should be used as an excuse to derail the other.  Making peace with the Palestinians will strengthen support for Israel's views on the nuclear talks, where many leaders of the big powers negotiating with the Iranians question Netanyahu's commitment to the two state solution he talks about. The PM has to convince them that he is using the Iranian threat as an excuse to avoid peace.

For more discussion of this see my Washington Watch column.

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