Misreading the Map
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington for a meeting with President Barack Obama, U.S. policymakers are being urged to place the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the back burner and spend their time and energy addressing the true menace supposedly confronting Arabs and Jews in the Middle East -- Iran. Deal with that threat, the sirens sing, and the other pieces of peace in the Holy Land will fall into place.
Netanyahu framed the issue in a speech he made in Washington earlier this month. "There is something happening today in the Middle East, and I can say that for the first time in my lifetime I believe that Arabs and Jews see the common danger," he told supporters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "This wasn't always the case," he added.
Or was it? In fact, there have been many times when key players in Jerusalem and Washington have convinced themselves that focusing on some third party would make Israeli-Palestinian peace possible. But it has not worked in the past, and it won't work now.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Soviet Union provided diplomatic and military support for the new Jewish state. Many Israelis, echoing Soviet propaganda, promoted the idea that the defeat of the imperialist powers in the Middle East and the collapse of their corrupt lackeys in the Arab world -- including in Palestine -- would help usher in a new age of cooperation between progressive Israelis and Palestinians. It didn't happen.
Throughout the Cold War, a mirror-image fantasy popular in Jerusalem and Washington blamed Soviet support for Arab radicals as the driver of the Arab-Israeli conflict. According to this argument, Palestinian nationalism was simply another radical Marxist-oriented movement controlled by Moscow. Seeing the Arab-Israeli confrontation as a minor sideshow to the larger U.S.-Soviet struggle, Washington treated Israel's creeping annexation of the West Bank with benign neglect and gave Israel a yellow light to invade Lebanon in 1982 -- leading to disastrous consequences in both cases.