Edward Klein and Richard Z. Chesnoff’s lengthy Huffington Post piece on the Jewish establishment’s difficulty with Obama is well worth a full read. But what jumps out are the sections which describe what appears to be the Obama administration’s wholehearted endorsement of linkage—the notion, accepted at the highest levels of the U.S. military, that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will help promote U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East— and the visceral response to the strategy by Anti-Defamation League Director Abe Foxman.
Klein and Chesnoff write:
The current Jewish problem with Obama can be traced back to his first full day on the job. On January 21, 2009, he summoned his national security team to the Oval Office and laid out a tough new policy toward Israel. According to our sources, Obama said that in order to make good on his campaign promise to extricate 200,000 American troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. had to create a grand coalition of “moderate” Muslim states and Israel to isolate Iran, which has made no secret of its ambition to become the nuclear hegemon in the Middle East.
The only way to accomplish that goal, the president stated, was to eliminate the poisonous effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which provides Iran with an excuse to stir up trouble. Thus it was “a vital national interest of the United States” to stop Israel from building settlements in the occupied West Bank and housing in East Jerusalem, and force the Jewish state to resolve the Palestinian problem.
According to the article, Foxman tried to convince Obama that if the United Staes wants Israel to take risks for peace then “the best way is to make Israel feel that its staunch friend America is behind it.”
“You are absolutely wrong,” the president replied. “For the past eight years [under the Bush administration], Israel had a friend in the United States and it didn’t make peace.”
Obama’s response is the best possible argument against those who reject the concept of linkage, such as Foxman, or endorse a reverse linkage argument, such as the neoconservatives, who argue that pressuring Israel to make peace is best postponed until the U.S. has eradicated all of Israel’s enemies from the Middle East.
Having followed the reverse linkage line of reasoning in invading Iraq — as well as observing that the 2006 Lebanon War, the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza and the winter 2008-2009 Gaza War all occurred after Saddam Hussein had been removed from power — it seems clear Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol‘s promise that the road to peace “runs through Baghdad” was a dead-end.
Foxman continues his critique:
“I came away from the meeting convinced that Obama has introduced a new and dangerous strategy and that it’s revealing itself in steps,” Foxman told Edward Klein. “Unlike other administrations, this one is applying linkage in the Middle East. It’s saying that if you resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the messiah will come and the lions will lie down with the lambs. All the president’s advisers on the Middle East, starting with George Mitchell, believe in linkage, and they’re telling the president you have to prove to the Arab Muslim world that you are different than previous presidents and you can separate yourself from Israel, distance yourself from the settlements issue. After all, settlements are something that American Jews don’t like anyway, so it’s a win-win proposition.”
Foxman doesn’t even bother to seriously challenge the validity of linkage. (No one has suggested that “the messiah will come and the lions will lie down with the lambs,” either metaphorically or literally.) Instead, he and those others who oppose the White House’s position on settlements prefer to embellish the claims of linkage supporters, while refusing to engage in a real discussion about the failure of Israeli leadership to make concessions necessary for peace.
While many progressive American Jews are frustrated with the administration’s inability to convince Netanyahu to stop settlement construction, Klein and Chesnoff’s piece offers some of the strongest indications yet that the Obama administration is firmly grounded in the linkage strategy and has soundly rejected the reverse linkage argument.