The WikiLeaks revelations have further confirmed the shaky basis of American Middle East policy and provided additional evidence of a teetering American-Israel relationship. From its first day in office, the Obama administration has argued for a linkage between progress on the Palestinian-Israel peace track and the possibility of effective action to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Only if Middle Eastern states became convinced that the Palestinians were going to receive their state, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton claimed, could they be expected to lend their support to action against Iran.
That argument is poppycock, we now know, and the President and Secretary of State have known it to be such from the beginning. Arab leaders have been begging the United States to do anything necessary, including military action, to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions in their tracks. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah repeatedly asked President Obama and other American officials to destroy Iran's nuclear program, and the Saudi ambassador to the United States urged Gen. David Petraeus, in 2008 to "cut off the head of the snake." King Hamad of Bahrain told Gen. Petraeus virtually the same thing: "That program must be stopped. The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it." Similar concerns were expressed by the Jordanians, Egyptians, and the United Arab Emirates.
Not one of these Arab leaders ever suggested that the United States should only act after achieving some breakthrough on the Palestinian-Israeli front or linked the two issues. Indeed at a meeting with President Obama, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, expressed something bordering on the exasperation voiced by French President Sarkozy at the U.N. After listening to Obama wax rhapsodic over his vision of a nuclear free world, Sarkozy told Obama to get real, for while he was devoting himself to the reduction of American and Russian nuclear stockpiles, two rogue states led by crackpot ideologues were on the verge of going nuclear. King Abdullah seems to have had the same reaction to President Obama's stress on the peace agreement he hoped to forge between Palestinians and Israelis, while showing little urgency with respect to Iran.
Yet if the administration knew that none of its Arab allies saw action against Iran as linked to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, why did it continue to pretend that such a linkage exists. Part of the reason surely lies in President Obama's determination to reach out to the Muslim world and his conviction that creating a Palestinian state is the key to doing so. Another part of the explanation, however, is that Obama sees fundamental justice as on the Palestinian side. Pushing a Palestinian state is thus his means of laying claim to the great deeds worthy of his vanity.
THE STALLED NEGOTIATIONS over an additional moratorium on Israeli building beyond the 1949 armistice lines further demonstrate the declining state of American-Israeli relations. As of this writing, the United States has still not furnished any written statement of what Israel is being offered in return for its agreement to an additional freeze. Without such a statement, there is no chance that the Israeli cabinet will ratify such a moratorium, nor should it. The demand for written commitments from the Americans reflects the cabinet's lack of trust in the current American administration, and perhaps the suspicions of a number of cabinet members about Netanyahu's representations as well.
The inability of the State Department to forge any kind of written memorandum of understandings suggests that what is being offered is considerably less and what is being demanded from Israel considerably more than was initially represented to the Israeli public. The Americans are unwilling to distinguish between building in Jerusalem and elsewhere beyond the 1949 armistice lines. And it also appears that they are not willing to commit to no more than one additional three-month moratorium. Finally, there are various reports that Israel will have to pay for the 20 stealth fighters held out as part of the original incentive package. (The latter might be to Israel's advantage as far as Israel's standing in American public opinion goes.)
More disturbing still is what appears to be demanded of Israel – not just an extension of the moratorium as a means of luring the Palestinians back to the bargaining table, but an actual agreement on borders of a provisional Palestinian state. Nothing could be more antithetical to Netanyahu's return to a security-based diplomacy announced in the first major policy address of his second term as prime minister at Bar-Ilan University. Though of late the Prime Minister has been pretty silent about precisely what are Israel's security needs in any final peace deal with the Palestinians, one point he has made clear: Borders cannot be separated from security arrangements. Once the Palestinians pocket the borders of their state, they are even less likely than at present to show any flexibility on Israel's security concerns, and international pressure will mount on Israel to "take chances for peace."
The American-Israel negotiations over the moratorium extension have placed relations between the two countries on a footing of haggling over price. Gone are the days when the two countries spoke of their mutual values and interests. Now everything is arms-length bargaining. Thus the Americans have refused to assure Israel of their commitment to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution for recognition of a Palestinian state, despite the fact than any Palestinian move to seek such a resolution would be a blatant violation of its commitments under the Oslo Accords.
And not to mention that the Palestinians have done nothing to show themselves worthy of statehood. They are still far from building the institutions of a democratic polity. Nor have they ceased for one moment in their incitement against Israel. Just this week, Mahmoud Abbas presided over meeting of his Fatah faction at which one of the masterminds of the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics was honored.
In the past, an American veto of any such Security Council resolution would have been automatic. Now it is used as a carrot for Israeli compliance with American demands. The same is true of the stealth fighters. The Obama administration seeks to sell 60 billion dollars of high-level armaments to Saudi Arabia. In the past, Israel would have always been compensated for such a sale, in order to preserve it qualitative superiority over potential enemies. Now that compensation is being used as an incentive for Israel's carrot to get Israel to do America's bidding.
WHAT MAKES THE AMERICAN PUSH for an agreement on borders even more disturbing is that the administration knows that the current Palestinian leadership is not interested in any remotely plausible agreement on borders. Just this week the Fatah Council echoed the three no's of Khartoum in 1968 – no peace, no recognition, no negotiations – with three no's of its own: no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, no discussion of interim borders, and no possibility of land swaps with Israel. Without the latter, there can be no discussion over Israel maintaining the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria where the vast majority of Jewish residents live. Israel cannot possibly uproot hundreds of thousands of residents from their homes in Judea and Samaria without triggering civil war and leaving the country defenseless as well.
A return to the pre-1967 "Auschwitz borders" is not in the cards. It would be hard to find a single Israeli military strategist who believes that Israel does not need to maintain the Jordan Rift Valley in any final peace agreement, both to prevent weapons smuggling into Judea and Samaria and to defend against attack from the East. Nor is Israel willing to entrust either task to international peacekeepers. For Fatah to write off the possibility of land swaps is to reject anything less than a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines. And that's a non-starter.
The Obama administration knows all this, just as it knew of the Arab states demands for American action to stop Iran's nuclear program – by military means if necessary. Yet Fatah's rejection of any basis for negotiations has received little press in the United States. Nothing must be allowed to disturb the fantasy that a solution to all the Middle East's problems lies in a Palestinian state or the equally fantastical belief that just a few Israeli concessions will be sufficient to bring that state into being.