Many of those so-called “realists” who inspired Barack Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War and accompanied him into the administration believed in the theory of “linkage”–that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was closely linked to threats against the U.S., and was in fact the primary reason that the U.S. was targeted by terrorists and disliked by other regional powers, including Iran. Reality, in fact, has proved otherwise in the past few years.
In recent weeks, Palestinian leaders have made very public overtures to the Iranian regime. That is not new–Yasser Arafat famously tried to import weapons on the Karine A, and Iran has been funding and arming Hamas for years–but the context has changed fundamentally with Iran’s march towards becoming a nuclear power. The Palestinians are not just aiming to intimidate Israel, but to signal to the U.S. that it is no longer in charge.
Peace between Israelis and Palestinians only became a possibility when both were clients of American power. And that only happened after a) the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had long supported the Palestinians and the Arab bloc; and b) the disastrous decision by Arafat to support Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, which left the Palestine Liberation Organization without friends in the Arab world and forced it to turn to Washington.
Though the Oslo peace accords were brokered by Norway, the process had begun and would continue under American auspices. Though, in the end, Arafat lacked the will to sign a final deal, it was American power in the Middle East that had enabled the progress until that point. That same American power also became a target for Al Qaeda (as it had long been for Iran), but American support for Israel was not the main reason for that hatred.
Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are devoting an excessive amount of energy to negotiating (imposing) a deal on the Israelis and Palestinians, and spending far too little energy preventing the emergence of a nuclear Iran. They do not seem to see that allowing Iran to gain strength, and to challenge the U.S. for dominance in the Middle East, makes peace less likely by convincing Palestinians that they have better alternatives to a deal.
The Palestinian leadership has likely concluded that it is better to back Iran, knowing that a U.S. administration run by Democrats will be unlikely to punish them by cutting off aid, and sensing that the possibility of totally destroying Israel–however slight–probably outweighs the more certain but very modest gains of a peace deal. The weak posture of the Obama administration has made such calculations not only cruel but also rational.