Two days ago, Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, caused a little stir when he told the Washington Post:
The new Israeli government will not move ahead on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in US efforts to stop Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon and limit Teheran’s rising influence in the region.
The interview proved such an embarrassment that Ayalon felt compelled to immediately correct the record, so no one would interpret it as the Israeli government operating under “linkage theory,” thereby connecting Iran with the Palestinian issue. As I have previously explained, Israel has always been suspicious of linkage theory when brought up by third parties, but is slowly moving toward adopting a reverse-linkage — as exemplified by Ayalon’s statement.
First he said that “We will deal with the Palestinian issue as if there is no Iranian issue, and with the Iranian issue as if there is no Palestinian issue” — thus negating any linkage. But then he added that “if there is such a link, [sic] is a negative one. The Iranian influence [among the Palestinians] is destructive.” That would be linkage in reverse: not solving the Palestinian issue in order to tame Iran, but rather solving the Iran problem in order to pacify Palestinians.
Interestingly, when Ayalon gave his first interview to the Post, the Obama administration was dismissive toward attempts at establishing linkage: “U.S. officials are wary of linking the two issues,” the paper explained, then went ahead quoting an anonymous official:
We have to be pretty careful how you approach that kind of connection,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “We are dealing with Iran because there are behaviors out there that are deeply troubling. We would be doing that regardless of other issues. By the same token, the Palestinian issue is an issue that obviously evokes a great deal in the region.
Well — that was then (two days ago), and this is now (yesterday). Apparently, the “official” didn’t clear his position with the Secretary of State before issuing his statement to the press. As Jennifer noted, according to the Clinton formula, espoused yesterday during an appearance before a panel of the House Appropriations Committee, linkage is the official American position:
“For Israel to get the kind of strong support it’s looking for vis-a-vis Iran it can’t stay on the sideline with respect to the Palestinian and the peace efforts, that they go hand-in-hand,” Clinton said.
For the first time, the cat is out of the bag. The linkage-denial of the past several years is finally over. Now we’re onto all out linkage-war: The Obama administration is following the lead of the Baker-Hamilton report, which had stated that “the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict” — Obama himself had spoken in similar terms during the campaign:
I think King, King Abdullah is as savvy a analyst of the region and player in the region as, as there is, one of the points that he made and I think a lot of people made, is that we’ve got to have an overarching strategy recognizing that all these issues are connected. If we can solve the Israeli/Palestinian process, then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan. It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region. If we’ve gotten an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal, maybe at the same time peeling Syria out of the Iranian orbit, that makes it easier to isolate Iran so that they have a tougher time developing a nuclear weapon.
But the Israeli government is now fighting back: if there’s a linkage to be established, it will be the inverse of the Clinton-linkage. And here we are, back to the days when the all-too-frequently raised question was whether the road to Baghdad runs through Jerusalem — or is it “the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad”? Only this time it’s Tehran.