The most vociferous stateside opponents of linkage — the notion, accepted at the highest levels of the U.S. military, that resolving the Arab-Palestinian conflict will forward the U.S.’s broader strategic interests in the region — tend to come from the neoconservative camp. But their arguments fall flat when the straw men and flimsy evidence upon which they base their assertions are even quickly challenged.
This week, we have another striking example of the restating of the argument that, as we’ve discussed before, ‘the road to Middle East peace runs through… anywhere but Jerusalem.’ Writing on “Hudson New York,” a blog and aggregator operated by the neoconservative Hudson Institute, Aymenn Jawad (sometimes Aymenn Jawad al-Timmi) declares that the U.S. should focus on Yemen, not Israeli-Palestinian peace.
An intern at Daniel Pipes‘ Middle East Forum, where his Yemen article is reprinted and has been promoted on the front page for several days, Jawad, an apparent friend of anti-Jihadist Islamophobe Robert Spencer, cites two Al-Arabiya polls and goes on to conclude:
These data should put to rest the notion of “linkage,” the idea that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to dealing with the problem of Iran’s goal of becoming the dominant power in the region.
Proponents of “linkage” argue that Iran is increasing its influence because it is playing on resentment about the ongoing conflict, but how can this be so when surveys from Al-Arabiya consistently illustrate a lack of interest amongst Arabs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process?
This line of attack on linkage raises two big problems.
First, hawks have long proclaimed that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a magic bullet that will wipe away the U.S.’s problems. At Commentary, Jennifer Rubin characterized linkage as “the unsupportable claim that Iran can be disarmed only in the aftermath of a successful peace process.” When linkage came up in Gen. David Petreus’s Congressional testimony last Spring, as well as reports of Vice President Joe Biden’s private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor told the Forward that he isn’t on board with “the notion that if somehow we address the concerns of the Arab world regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then all our problems will be solved.”
But this is a straw man — a deliberate mischaracterization of what proponents of linkage are saying. In a post picking apart the anti-linkage arguments of top Obama Mid East adviser Dennis Ross and WINEP fellow David Makovsky, blogger and foreign policy realist Steve Clemons wrote:
The ongoing and repeated failures to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict are increasingly consequential to American security and US interests. […]
Solving the Israel-Palestine conflict will not solve all the political and identity tensions which will continue to boil in Arab and Muslim-dominant states — but the echo effect of resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will knock down many walls in these societies that have been resisting change.
Indeed, Clemons hints at the Arab Peace Initiative and other agreements to assert: “The quid pro quo of moving Palestine and Israel toward a credible two state track is normalization of relations between Israel and 57 other now hostile countries.”
This is the sort of broad and nuanced tack that opponents of linkage avoid addressing. More disturbing than failing to address the question at hand, however, is Jawad’s invocation of a “survey” by Al-Arabiya, a partially Saudi-owned and U.A.E. based Arabic-language television channel. Jawad offers a link to a page in Arabic displaying the survey results, and then trumpets the results as definitive: “71% of respondents had no interest in the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.” Indeed, that is the result listed, but this is no scientific poll: It’s merely an online reader survey from the front page of Al-Arabiya‘s website. The “survey,” in other words, is statistically meaningless. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute harped on the same point when Efraim Karsh wrote his New York Times op-ed attacking linkage based on the same “survey.”
Furthermore, no interest in the peace process and no interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not the same thing. A friend fluent in Arabic relates to me that the question referenced by Jawad indeed deals only with the peace process. It asks about “amaliyat as-salam fii ash-sharq al-awsat,” or “the peace process in the Middle East.” Zogby hit this point, too: Arabs “no longer ‘passionate about Palestine’?” he wrote on Huffington Post, “Don’t bet on it.”
As for the 2005 poll cited by Jawad, I can’t find it online (perhaps because of my limited Arabic). Taking Jawad’s numbers at face value (despite the credulity gap on the other Al-Arabiya online viewer survey), however, does not prove his argument. Just as caring about the “peace process” is not the same as caring about the conflict, failing to link the conflict’s resolution to “Arab development” is, again, not capturing the full spectrum of the potential benefits — both for countries in the Middle East and the U.S. — heralded by supporters of linkage like Clemons.
Though Jawad calls for an end to drone strikes in Yemen, where U.S. “overt military intervention undermines its allies,” it should be noted that many of his fellow travelers in the neoconservative movement are not so level-headed. Late last year, Joe Lieberman called on the U.S. to prevent allowing Yemen to be “tomorrow’s war” by making it today’s war — ie, the famous “preemptive” aggression preferred by neocons in Iraq and, today, in Iran. All this, of course, for only a few-hundred members of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.
All this blustering supports the hawkish talking point that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a distraction to U.S. policymakers, and that Obama should instead pursue a road to Middle East peace that winds through nearly every Arab and Muslim capital. Look for peace anywhere but Jerusalem, they seem to say. Nothing to see here. Move along.