Public words may belie American strategy


There has been so much noise about the recent American pronouncements on Israel that it’s hard to analyze what it all means.

The conventional wisdom from Jewish groups has been that the United States overreacted to the diplomatic snafu of a settlement announcement during Vice President Biden’s visit. There’s been further criticism of the Obama Administration for voicing its view on the settlement issue so publicly, and suggestion that the U.S. should calm down its rhetoric.

But in looking behind the words, it is plausible that what’s been happening recently is a positive development in the prospect for Middle East Peace.

The most significant peril in the region, and to Israel, is of course Iran. The Islamist regime is apparently beyond diplomacy, and recent news indicates that the government may be constructing even more nuclear facilities than previously thought.

In order to most effectively deal with the Iran threat in the absence of war (initiated either by the U.S. or Israel), Iran at the very least has to believe that it is being severed from any actual or prospective allies among the Arab nations. `

There are several ways the U.S. can attempt to effect isolation of Iran.

* Push hard for economic sanctions and withdrawal of foreign business from Iran. Just this week, the Russian Lukoil Company withdrew because of American sanction pressure.

* Reach out to moderate Arab nations to demonstrate that all countries that value stability and growth realize a substantial threat from Islamism and rogue nations. This tactic, involving meetings with and speeches to, Arab leaders, has alienated many Jews and Israelis, but the stronger the prospective ties to the U.S., the greater the separation from Iran.

* Continue the war in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power and cut off al-Qaeda influence. The effort there has borne much fruit lately with help from newfound Pakistani resolve and a crackdown on corruption by the Afghan government

* Gain the support of major allies such as Russia in isolating Iran. The nuclear arms reduction pact last week between the U.S. and Russia is a key element in this cultivation exercise.

* Promote economic development by the more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, thereby moving that economy toward a Western-style structure and away from militant Islamism that can be swayed more readily by the Iranian mullahs.

When seen through the prism of combating the common Iranian enemy, rather than through that of the Israel-Palestinian dispute, the recent U.S. persona starts to make more sense. But this doesn’t answer why it is necessary for the U.S. to take such an aggressive position on settlements.

Once again, focus on Iran. Assume three things for the moment: (1) The U.S. (which has continually over the past weeks restated its utter commitment to Israel partnership and security) wants to curry favor with the Arab states over Iran; (2) the U.S. is well aware that it cannot force Israel to compromise on anything that the Jewish State knows is against its own self interest, and (3) if Israel and Palestinians reach a deal, at least a small part of the Arab hostility toward Israel will dissipate, again hurting Iran.

So the U.S. does the heavy lifting by condemning all settlements, both those in the West Bank and in Jerusalem. What does this do? Well, it gives American negotiators some stroke to get the Palestinians back to the table. It allows the moderate Arab nations to save face and tell their people that they had the support of the U.S. in pushing for the removal of settlements. And it allows the U.S. to say, “well, we tried” when the inevitable point is reached that Israel is not going to abandon Jerusalem. And it has the added benefit of potentially isolating Hamas if a deal progresses with the PA.

You believe this is far fetched? Well, consider the alternative. To borrow from Mark Twain, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got .”

Right now there is nothing that even resembles a deal. If Israel wants to abandon the two-state prospect, this is perfectly fine–do nothing and let things continue as they have (though ultimately the demographic shift is Israel will make Jews a minority in a single-state solution). But don’t pretend an effective two-state solution is going to materialize all of a sudden from the status quo–miracles are nice when they happen but one doesn’t typically have much control over their timing or occurrence.

The U.S. is taking tons of heat from Israel and Jews worldwide, and if only the words are analyzed, rightly so. But it may turn out that the U.S. was willing to risk some of its Israel capital in the short run to protect its longtime partner and the region down the road. Whether this is a legitimate reading of the tea leaves, only time will tell.

Larry Levin is the Jewish Light’s Publisher/CEO.