The two American obsessions in the Middle East – analysis

It’s all about the Palestinians and the Mullahs.

By Joseph Puder, Front Page Magazine

Both the Obama and Biden administrations have had two obsessions that have proven to be erroneous but continue to persist.

One is the belief that the Palestinians are the key to Arab Israeli peace.

Former President Barack Obama had spent eight years pursuing efforts to push Israel to make unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, including freezing settlement expansion for almost a full year.

At the same time, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas climbed on a high tree and refused to come down and negotiate. President Joe Biden has been less preoccupied with the Palestinians since other priorities emerged that made the two-state solution less relevant.

The second obsession both Obama and Biden have been committed to is their unwillingness to clearly present a credible military option in dealing with Iran. Although President Biden has declared repeatedly that he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear bomb, and opined in July 2022, that, “The only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons.” The State Department, however, had this to say… “We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to verifiably, effectively, and sustainably prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Palestinian statehood and Iran’s nuclear ambitions

In the meantime, the Ayatollahs have advanced their uranium enrichment to 84%. Israeli daily Haaretz reported (February 19, 2023) that, “International atomic monitors detected last week that Iran has enriched uranium to levels just below that needed for a nuclear weapon. Bloomberg News reported that according to two senior diplomats, inspectors need to determine whether Iran intentionally produced the material – uranium enriched to 84% purity – or whether it was the result of an unintended accumulation within the centrifuges.”

Unlike the Obama policy of focusing exclusively on Israeli concessions, Biden’s policy is far more realistic vis-a-vis the Palestinians. During his confirmation hearing in January 2021, Antony Blinken, while expressing US support for a two-state solution, pointed out that realistically, it is hard to envision a near-term prospect for moving forward on a two-state solution.

Mahmoud Abbas has proven time and again that he is incapable of settling for peace deal with Israel. Making a deal that might require compromises in which he might not get all he wants, including the unacceptable idea (for Israel) of the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. He was tested in 2008, when then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas the most extensive concessions on territory, Jerusalem, and even a small number of Palestinian refugees to be allowed into Israel. He declined to end the conflict, most likely because he feared assassination or harm to his family. Years later, Abbas conceded that he regretted not accepting Olmert’s offer, and that it was the most serious one presented. His excuse was that Olmert didn’t “show him the map.”

Perhaps one of the few things that Israelis and Palestinians could agree on is that in the eight years of Obama’s presidency, he let them down. In the US, both Democrats and Republicans criticized Obama for leaning too hard on Israel, and “leading from behind.” James Jay Carafano pointed out in a Heritage Foundation piece (February 6, 2015) that, “(The Obama) ) White House has nothing to show for years of shuttle diplomacy trying to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace. In fact, the two sides seem farther apart than ever.” It should be added that “nothing to show” came after unrelenting pressure Obama placed on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to make concessions to the Palestinians.

No military option against Iran

The second obsession the Obama-Biden administrations have is the unwillingness to use the military option, or to make it clear to the theocratic, and fanatical Iranian regime, that there will be a red line to their quest for a nuclear bomb.

The Obama administration was particularly protective of the Iranian regime and kept cautioning the Netanyahu government against preemptive action to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat. In his recently published book, “Bibi, My Story,” Netanyahu revealed to what extent Washington sought to prevent Israel from acting against Iran.

He wrote (page 484): “On August 20, 2012, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went further, saying, ‘The US will not be complicit in any Israeli action.’” Netanyahu added, “His (Dempsey’s) choice of words outraged me. It imputed an illegitimate, even criminal nature to a potential Israeli action and signaled to Iran that the US did not support Israel. This was putting blinding daylight between the US and Israel. What better way to reassure Iran that it was not in any danger if it continued to pursue its nuclear program?”

On September 11, 2012, Netanyahu said in a Bloomberg TV interview, (Bibi, My Story, page 485) “Iran will not stop (its drive to an atomic bomb, JP) unless it sees a clear determination by the democratic countries and a clear red line. They don’t see a clear red line and I think the sooner we establish one, the greater the chances that there won’t be a need for other types of action.”

The only way the Ayatollahs of the Islamic Republic of Iran will be deterred from reaching their target of acquiring a nuclear bomb is to face a serious American military threat. Libya’s dictator Gaddafi abandoned his nuclear ambitions in 2003, after President George W. Bush threatened to destroy his weapons of mass destruction. The impact of the US lightening victory against Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Gulf War convinced Gaddafi to give up his nuclear ambitions, not diplomacy.

In November 2011, Michael Eisenstadt, a Kahn Fellow and Director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote: “For nuclear diplomacy to succeed, Tehran must believe that the US will take military action against any effort (by Iran, JP) to build a bomb.” History abounds with examples of diplomacy without the threat of a military action being a failure. Perhaps the best example is the Munich conference of 1938, when Britain’s Neville Chamberlain brought his empty “diplomatic peace of our time” only to have Hitler trample over Czechoslovakia, and then Poland. The old Latin dictum says, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

The Abraham Accords

President Donald J. Trump proved the erroneous assumptions of Obama and Biden about the centrality of the Palestinian issue. His administration engineered the peace between Israel and the Arab states of Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan. It took away the veto powers the Palestinians held over Arab states. Peace between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world no longer depends on Palestinian approval. The longer the Palestinians reject compromise with Israel and are unwilling to recognize the permanency of the Jewish state, Arab states vital interest will prevail over Palestinian rejectionism. Iran and its proxies alone will continue to encourage Palestinian hopes to replace Israel.

It is time for Washington to overcome its obsessions and realize with clarity that the Middle East has changed. Iran threatens not only Israel’s existence but that of the Arab Gulf states, and ultimately the US. The Palestinians will soon be led by Hamas, and the Ayatollahs will likely get a bomb, unless the US replaces words with credible military threat of action.

Joseph Puder, a freelance journalist, is the Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel (ITAI). He is a regular contributor to Frontpage.