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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The question of linkage and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

What this man has to say about linkage is worth reading, whatever we might think of the soluion.

How to Deal with the Arab-Israeli 'Condition' Adam Garfinkle

From Washington Institute for Near East Affairs Policy Focus #90, December 2008

There are two basic schools of thought concerning the relationship of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the many troubles of the Middle East and beyond. One school subscribes to linkage, indeed, in the centrality of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the key to solving most of the region's other problems. The other argues the reverse--that "all politics are local," that the Arab- Israeli conflict is neither central to nor closely linked with the region's other conundrums. Both of these points of view cannot be right.

As it happens, both are wrong in significant but distinct ways. The linkage school is wrong on analytical grounds--its arguments (insofar as it offers arguments as opposed to bald assertions) are false. There is scant evidence for its contentions, and plenty of evidence pointing in the opposite direction. The anti-linkage school is wrong on phenomenological grounds--its analytical arguments are sound, but it fails to acknowledge the autonomous power of massive and self-regenerating misperception and the practical impossibility of correcting it anytime soon.

Understanding this distinction can illuminate how President Barack Obama should approach the conflict as part and parcel of a Middle Eastern and global foreign policy strategy. In essence, he will be confronted with a Goldilocks problem. If his administration invests too much energy in a linkage-based policy to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute at a time when local conditions make significant progress extremely unlikely, it will waste political capital, further harm Washington's already degraded reputation for effectiveness and good judgment, and risk misleading the Israelis and Palestinians into making their situations worse. Despite the best of intentions, this is more or less what the Clinton administration did. Conversely, if the incoming administration invests too little diplomatic energy toward resolving the conflict, it will harm important diplomatic equities it needs to effectively manage other, arguably far more important, problems.

Despite the best of intentions, this is more or less what the outgoing Bush administration did, at least before mid-2007. The Obama administration must craft a more balanced approach, neither too hot nor too cold, neither too hard nor too soft, neither too high nor too low in its aspirations.

Debunking Linkage

The linkage school is by far the more popular of the two. It constitutes a taken-for-granted truth among the political class in Europe, in most of the capitals of what used to be called the Third World, and in consequential quarters in the United States. This does not make it right, of course, any more than majority opinion in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, made witches real. Reams of examples of this type of thinking could be enumerated, but what is so odd is that the vast majority of them are not accompanied by an explicit argument. Instead, when these assertions are made in public, they typically prompt a moment of solemn silence before the speaker or writer moves on, feeling refreshed from having uttered what amounts to a faith-based (as opposed to a fact-based) truth.

When pressed for causal analysis, advocates of linkage tend to make three "rolling" assertions: that the Palestinian issue generates hostility against the United States because of its "special" relationship with Israel; that this hostility is the main source feeding both anti- Americanism and terrorist recruitment in the Arab and broader Muslim worlds; and that this anti-Americanism in turn jeopardizes U.S. interests across the board, from cooperation on energy issues to the promotion of democracy and socioeconomic reform. What to make of these assertions and their occasional accompanying analysis? Some parts are plainly false; others are more plausible but either unproven or exaggerated.

First of all, there is little or no evidence that longstanding U.S. support for Israel generates the bulk of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world--such sentiment, after all, predates the development of the "special" relationship. Increased anti-Americanism today has more to do with the magnification of underlying cultural predispositions vested in religion by dominant interpretations of Western colonialism, the demise of the Soviet Union, the Iraq war, and, above all, enduring U.S. support for several deeply unpopular Arab regimes. The proof of the last point is that anti-Americanism is more deeply embedded in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia than in, say, Algeria or even Syria and Iran, though the Iranian regime is, if anything, more ideologically hostile to both Israel and the United States than any Sunni Arab state today.

Of course, American support for Israel in the context of the Palestinian crucible is not without some significance.

Depending on where one is and the age of one's interlocutors, the plight of the Palestinians--and presumed Israeli and U.S. culpability for it--does generate hostility. But how much hostility depends on many things, not least the way the conflict is portrayed by Middle Eastern media. In recent years, the emotional quotient of the conflict has risen to the level of a passion play thanks to televised scenes--some real, at least a few staged, but nearly all slanted by acts of commission and omission--of the conflict's periodic spasms of violence.

Such scenes typically implicate the United States as a coconspiring villain. So the belief is sincere, even if what generates or embellishes it is biased.

For all its popularity, the claim that the Palestinian issue generates terrorist recruitment against the West and the United States is plausible but unsubstantiated, and a closer look at the facts casts doubt on its veracity.

Relatively few Palestinians have been active as either leaders or followers in al-Qaeda, and when former radicals from elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world have been debriefed, Palestine is only one of many grievances cited (alongside Kashmir, Iraq, Chechnya, Bosnia, Mindanao, and others). The social science literature on "who becomes a terrorist" suggests that the process works from the general to the specific, not the other way around. Violent extremists become so for philosophical and personal reasons first, and only later learn the list of political grievances against the West.1 Moreover, al-Qaeda's past proclamation of war against "Jews and Crusaders" does not refer only or mainly to Israel and Palestine, but rather to an imagined global Jewish conspiracy centered more in Washington and New York than Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The pecking order of grievances aside, it is also worth noting the illogic of asserting that a new U.S.

administration promulgating a solution for the Arab- Israeli conflict would help solve other problems (rather than the other way around, as was the case with the 1991 Madrid Conference, for example). Quite aside from the impracticality of imposing peace on Israelis and Arabs (which some favor), any imaginable political settlement would further legitimate, protect, and support a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Anyone who thinks that such a result would satisfy the Muslim extremists most likely to resort to terrorism does not understand their views. Opponents of such a settlement would attack any Arab or Muslim who would dare put his seal on it, as well as any Western state whose good offices helped bring it about. They would redouble their efforts to prevent any such settlement, and terrorism would likely increase in the short term-- short defined as anywhere between five and fifty years.

This is not the place to explain in detail why so many people in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States evidently believe in the tenets of the linkage school even though they are manifestly false or logically frail.2 Suffice it to say that many are enticed by simple explanations for complex problems, that focusing on Jews as being central to some people's anxieties is an old (and not particularly admirable) habit, and that several Middle Eastern governments have found it ------

1.Most literal debriefings of captured and former terrorists remain classified. One excellent illustration of the point, however, may be found in Ed Husain, The Islamist (Penguin, 2007). Other relevant literature includes Neil J. Smelser, The Faces of Terrorism: Social and Psychological Dimensions (Princeton University Press, 2007); National Research Council, Terrorism: Perspectives from the Social Sciences (National Academies Press, 2002); Alan B. Krueger, What Makes a Terrorist (Princeton University Press, 2007), Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, third edition (University of California Press, 2003); and Marc Sageman, Leaderless Jihad (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), especially chapter 3.

2. A detailed analysis of this question can be found in my forthcoming book Jewcentricity: Why the Jews are Praised, Blamed, and Used to Explain Almost Everything ( John Wiley, 2009), chapter 12.

easier to leverage these inclinations for their own purposes than to manage their challenges in other ways.

This is the place, however, to reckon with the autonomous impact of that belief. The beginning of wisdom here is to acknowledge that there is nothing unusual about irrational beliefs suffusing entire societies. Not too long ago, for example, the majority of citizens in one of Europe's most advanced societies seemed to believe in global Jewish conspiracies to conquer the world. Read enough social history and it is not difficult to conclude that majorities in most places have often held a lot of nonsensical, but not thereby inconsequential, beliefs. When Westerners, out of a sense of obligation to multicultural political correctness, refuse to credit the possibility that other societies could be so different from their own, they are engaging in acts of culturally based delusion not all that much different in character from that of their various "nonsensical" counterparts.

Dealing with the Real Effects of Linkage

However frustrating it may be, U.S. policymakers must acknowledge that the centrality of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict has become a social-psychological fact in the Middle East and beyond. Since beliefs tend to have self-fulfilling and self-denying consequences, this is hardly trivial. Nevertheless, a social-psychological fact is not the same as a strategic fact. The Obama administration therefore must keep clear that a U.S.-mediated (or imposed) solution to the Israel-Palestinian impasse, even were it possible, will not significantly affect the wider war on terror. It will not make democratization and liberalization within Arab countries appreciably easier. It will not affect world energy markets. And it will not make the United States more popular in most Muslim countries, unless it were accompanied by overt manifestations of anti- Jewish sentiment that would align with popular sentiment in those societies.

Although Washington must not confuse socialpsychological facts with strategic ones, it must not ignore them either. With fresh evidence from the summer 2006 Israel-Hizballah war--when the would-be traveling ministrations of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confronted the fact that no Arab capital would allow her plane to land--the Bush administration finally got the point: Hence the November 2007 Annapolis summit and Secretary Rice's subsequent time-consuming Levantine exertions.

One should be clear that these efforts have not been premised on a high prospect of actually achieving Arab-Israeli peace, although it doesn't necessarily hurt to try. Secretary Rice does not believe in diplomatic miracles; she has come to believe, however, in the need to expend considerable energies to cultivate appearances. What she has been doing is optical, if not illusional, in nature: the U.S. government must maintain equities with all parties for the day when progress might again be possible. It must also encourage conciliable actors on all sides so that the situation does not deteriorate further in the meantime. And, of more immediate value, it is wise to provide cover for several Arab regimes that incline to cooperate with the United States in other spheres. In addition, an active peace diplomacy could produce useful stresses in the region's Iranian-led rejectionist camp.

This sort of optical diplomacy is not heroic; no one is going to win a Nobel Peace Prize for acts of impression management. But this is what the current reality requires, and it is one of several burdens the Obama administration will have to bear. Confronted with a massive dialectic of error about the supposed centrality of the Arab-Israeli conflict in Middle Eastern and world affairs, but with little hope of actually ending the conflict in the next four years, here, then, is what President Obama should do.

  • First, the president should appoint within a hundred days after inauguration a prestigious but politically shrewd special envoy for Arab-Israeli affairs. This will provide the proper appearances, remove the portfolio from his desk (at least for a while), and mute the chorus of complaints from all sides (at least to some extent). There is not much more he could do anyway, for it will take at least that long for Obama to get his policy team nominated, approved, sworn in, and at their desks working.
  • Second, as soon as is practical, the president should mount a vigorous but private effort regarding regional perceptions of the September 11 attacks--namely, he should press the leaders of all Muslim-majority countries with which we have decent relations to level with their people about what actually happened. This is not because doing so would turn the tide of opinion in publics awash in conspiracy theories.3 But a goodfaith effort is the least these leaders could offer. It might make some short-term difference, and it is certainly a worthy long-term goal. Until these and other conspiracy theories are marginalized, the United States will be unable to have the kinds of relationships it really desires with Middle Eastern societies-- relationships of effective cooperation built on genuine mutual respect and trust.
  • ■■Third, the president should try to persuade America's Arab friends that aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) has to be a cooperative endeavor. It is unacceptable that the United States and European Union provide the bulk of budgetary assistance for the struggling PA while wealthy Arab states keep their own wallets tightly closed (even as they lecture others about the plight of the Palestinians).
  • ■■ Fourth, Palestinian governance reform and development should also be recast as a cooperative effort requiring Arab participation. A two-state solution is neither viable nor desirable if the Palestinian state is born fated to fail. The Obama administration should therefore develop governance aid triads (GATs) to help the PA come of age in terms of administrative competence. The managing secretariat for the GAT effort should be composed of the United States, the EU, and the Arab League. (Any Israeli input into the process would come via Washington.) These parties should devise functional assistance teams composed of one European and one Arab country to help the PA develop its competencies. The teams would work onsite in the West Bank and, hopefully, Gaza. For example, regarding Palestinian police training, a team from Italy and Morocco could be assembled; for health and medical affairs, a team from the Netherlands and Jordan; for sports and recreation, a team from Tunisia and Spain; for tax and budgetary assistance, a team from the United Arab Emirates and Denmark; for intelligence, a team from Egypt and Germany; for communications infrastructure, a team from Kuwait and Finland; for energy issues and electrical utilities, a team from France and Saudi Arabia; and so on.

Many side benefits could flow from such an effort, but the key purpose would be to engage other countries in the future of a sustainable two-state solution.

Although raising the competency level of Palestinian governance would not be formally tied to progress in political negotiations with Israel, it should be clear to everyone, however, that the ultimate purpose of the exercise is to backstop those negotiations against the day when significant progress becomes possible.

By improving the Palestinian quality of life though better governance, the GAT project should burnish the PA's credentials and help marginalize those Palestinian forces philosophically opposed to peace and conciliation with Israel. This would help enable the next generation of Palestinian leaders to come of age in a context supportive of peace and progress--one that rewards service and merit on behalf of the Palestinian people and punishes self-aggrandizement, corruption, extremism, and violence.

The GAT initiative makes sense as part of a larger policy objective. The Arab-Israeli situation is usually described as a "dispute" or a "conflict," and sometimes as a "crisis." These descriptors are not wrong, but it is more useful to see the problem as a "condition"--a chronic fact of life that will not be gone soon. The key to reducing the virulence and spillover effects of the Arab-Israeli condition--and, ultimately, to resolving it--is the implicit removal of elements of the effective sovereignty of both sides and their being vested in

3. See Michael Slackman, "9/11 Rumors That Become Conventional Wisdom," New York Times, September 8, 2008.

other actors with vital interests in containing, managing, and ultimately eliminating the condition.

On the Israeli side, those other actors include the United States in particular, but also potentially the European Union, which might eventually provide extra security guarantees, monitors, and similar incentives for territorial concessions. On the Palestinian side, it consists mainly of the Arab states. Although the time is long past when the Arab states could effectively contain Palestinian nationalism (as it was from 1949 to 1967), the Palestinian portfolio can and should be kept partially in check by the cooperative efforts of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps other Arab states that have a stake in regional peace and stability. The sovereign symbols of an eventual Palestinian state should in no way be compromised--the flag, the United Nations seat, membership in other international and regional organizations. But the substance of Palestinian sovereignty, particularly the ambit of its military and foreign policy decisions, must be cocooned within the Arab state system at least until such time as it is clear that a Palestinian state would neither violate the agreed conditions of its birth nor fail terminally under its own governance.

Here, too, appearances and reality will diverge, as the United States attempts to apply triage to the Arab- Israeli conflict until the day when real healing becomes possible. It is not necessarily hypocritical, however, to say one thing about a Palestinian state and its sovereign rights and do another. The proper term is not hypocrisy but diplomacy--the art of the merely possible when nothing better is available.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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