Young Jews argue with pro-Palestinian supporters beside a banner calling for a Palestinian state
The prospect of a U.N. Security Council vote on parameters and a timeline for Israel-Palestinian negotiations, coming as it does in the lead-up to Israeli elections, is eliciting this tricky argument: “We can’t pressure Israel when Israelis are going to the polls, because it will only help the Right.”
That argument fits neatly into the list of memes that time and time again have been used to justify U.S. inaction in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Memes like: “We can’t press for peace with the region in upheaval.” “We can’t ask any Israeli prime minister to take action that could destabilize his government.” “This is a losing issue that will cost any president and his party dearly.”
All of these memes are grounded in two self-congratulatory, self-serving premises: that we really, truly are committed to achieving peace and a two-state solution; and that we really, truly would take consequential action to achieve these goals, but circumstances beyond our control prevent it.
These memes have the quality of “truthiness,” making intuitive sense to Americans who are sick of Middle East wars and foreign interventions. But truthiness is not the same as truth.
In my most recent weekly column I quoted at some length from Uzi Arad, professor of strategic affairs at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center, who served until a year ago as chairman of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Council. Arad is one of Israel’s most influential strategic thinkers, a former Mossad director of research, founder of the Herzliya Conference and Netanyahu’s closest national security adviser in and out of office from the mid-1990s until March 2011, when Arad resigned amid a messy disagreement over Iran strategy.
The quotes from Arad in my column were extracted from a much longer July 17-18 phone conversation about the connections between Iran strategy, U.S.-Israel relations and Palestinian peace talks. Despite his uber-hawk reputation, which leads some detractors (mostly on the left) to call him “Israel’s Dr. Strangelove,” he’s a subtle and surprising thinker, and what he has to say right now is important. Accordingly, I’m presenting my notes from our full conversation.
An attack on Iran is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The overall strategic objective, the one that the American administration and the Israeli government presumably share, is an expression of determination that Iran will be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The president has also amplified his position by saying that America is not in the mode of discussing containment or deterrence. What he means is that all eyes are fixed on prevention.