The argument for “linkage” between Iran and Israel-Palestine is not persuasive, as I have said before, and it seems to me that advocates of the “linkage” argument insist on connecting the two because they think that it gives the U.S. sufficient leverage over Israel to compel changes in Israeli policy that Israel would otherwise not make. The argument runs something like this: “If you want more help fending off the ‘existential threat’, you have to give ground on Palestine.” My earlier argument against “linkage” is still relevant:
For linkage to make sense, one has to accept that there is an impending threat to vital U.S. and allied interests from Iran, and one also has to believe that Israel and the Gulf states are unwilling to collaborate effectively against this Iranian threat until the status of Palestine is settled and they can all normalize relations with Israel. If the Iranian threat doesn’t exist or if it is grossly exaggerated, resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine therefore becomes much less urgent. If the Gulf states are truly terrified of Iran, they will presumably offer at least tacit support for any Israeli anti-Iranian action anyway. If they are trying to extract Israeli concessions on Palestine, the Saudis and other Gulf state governments have been doing a really poor job of hiding their anxieties about Iran.
It seems to me that Andrew’s recommendation in this post shows that the issues aren’t closely connected at all. Andrew writes:
My own view is that, under these circumstances, if Israel continues to refuse to budge on the West Bank, US interests are affected enough to lay out its own preferred final status boundaries and conditions for a Palestinian state, and press forward on those lines at the UN, regardless of the position of the Israeli government. At some point, the U.S. has to stand up for itself and its own interests if an ally refuses to be reasonable in lending a hand.
This position would prompt a huge fuss at home, but also dramatically alter moderate Muslim views of the US abroad, while also strengthening the credibility and underlining the necessity of tightening sanctions around Tehran.
American interests are threatened if Israel attacks Iran, because U.S. forces and Arab allies will bear the brunt of Iranian retaliation and the global economy will suffer from the shock of higher energy prices, but that doesn’t really have much to do with Israel’s occupation policy. It has everything to do with Israel’s unreasonable estimate of the Iranian threat, which Washington daily reinforces with its support for sanctions and which advocates of the “linkage” argument use to try to extract concessions on Palestine. Sanctions on Iran are either necessary or they’re not, and if Iran isn’t the threat it has been made out to be they are unnecessary no matter what happens in Palestine. If Iran were the threat that hawks claim it is, it would be necessary to confront it regardless of what happens in Palestine.
In fact, Iran is not the threat hawks claim it is, and the more serious danger to Israel’s political future is the perpetuation of the occupation on account of demography and the ultimate unsustainability of a democratic government ruling over a subject majority. In other words, Israel’s government has mistakenly identified the minimal, deterrable threat as the urgent, immediate one, and treats the much more significant threat to its long-term survival as an acceptable, manageable situation. The “linkage” argument essentially endorses this basic misunderstanding and tries to use it to dictate Israeli policy, when the right answer is to stop encouraging the Israeli government in the belief that Iran is an urgent, immediate threat that must be stopped and to discourage Israel very strongly from taking any arbitrary military action.
As Greg Scoblete points out, the reason why Israel’s occupation policy has any adverse effect on U.S. interests in the region is that the U.S. provides Israel significant aid and diplomatic support, which implicates the U.S. in what Israel does. Creating and imposing the borders of a new Palestine will not implicate the U.S. any less in what Israel does, and it won’t shield U.S. forces from Iranian retaliation in the event that Israel launches an attack on Iran. All this assumes that there would be an administration in this country willing to go through with Andrew’s proposal, and that there would be some way of effectively enforcing the “final status boundaries” Washington decides to impose. This not only sounds extraordinarily messy and difficult to implement, but it would be far easier, relatively speaking, to propose withholding all aid, and then withhold it and make the resumption of aid contingent on Israeli compliance with U.S. requirements.