The Arab quid pro quo

Commenting on U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to the Persian Gulf, Shibley Telhami argues that the Arab governments are essentially using the Iran issue to pressure the United States to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front: Israel and the Bush administration place great emphasis on confronting Iran's nuclear potential and are prepared to engage ...

Commenting on U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to the Persian Gulf, Shibley Telhami argues that the Arab governments are essentially using the Iran issue to pressure the United States to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front:

Commenting on U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to the Persian Gulf, Shibley Telhami argues that the Arab governments are essentially using the Iran issue to pressure the United States to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front:

Israel and the Bush administration place great emphasis on confronting Iran's nuclear potential and are prepared to engage in a peace process partly to build an anti-Iran coalition. Arabs see it differently. They use the Iran issue to lure Israel and the United States into serious Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking, having concluded that the perceived Iranian threats sell better in Washington and Tel Aviv than the pursuit of peace itself. […]

Arab governments are less worried about the military power of Hamas and Hezbollah than they are about support for them among their publics. They are less worried about a military confrontation with Iran than about Iran's growing influence in the Arab world. In other words, what Arab governments truly fear is militancy and the public support for it that undermines their own popularity and stability.

I think that's right, but it raises the question: Who's fooling whom? Very few analysts expect much forward progress on Middle East peace during the last year of Bush's presidency. Why shouldn't both the Israelis and Palestinians wait him out to see if they can get a better deal from the next U.S. leader? That also goes for Gulf states' relations with the Iranians. The next American president might well be less confrontational toward Tehran. Why risk Iranian retaliation now by going along with the U.S. containment approach, only to have to reverse course in 2009?

What's more, the strategy of punishing Iran works against the pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. An isolated Iran has a major incentive to lash out and disrupt the peace process via its local allies, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. Olmert's governing coalition is shaky, and a few well-timed terrorist attacks within Israel could throw even the most promising negotiations off course. And with Olmert now saying that there will be no peace unless Hamas-ruled Gaza ceases to be a threat, you have a recipe for paralysis.

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