Achieving Peace Through Palestine
AMMAN, Jordan – To the current Israeli government, the Iranian nuclear program is the number one threat. The Netanyahu administration believes that moderate Arab states share the same view. This is why so much emphasis was placed on the recent discovery of a Hezbollah cell in Egypt. Jerusalem used this incident as evidence that the Iranian government wants to overthrow Arab regimes. The Hezbollah story was also used by Jerusalem to gather consensus in Arab capitals – and in Washington - that a solution to the Iranian nuclear program is more important and urgent than the Palestinian -Israeli peace process.
However, at the recent World Economic Forum in Jordan, this view was strongly challenged by Amr Mousa, the General Secretary of the Arab league. During his appearance at a panel entitled “The future of Middle East peacemaking,” Mousa emphasized that to the Arab world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the biggest threat, and not Iran. To him, the consequences of failure to reach consensus on this matter are far more serious and urgent than Iran's nuclear program. Although Mousa “does not want another nuclear state in the Middle East,” what he and other delegates from moderate Arab states reiterated on and off the record was that Middle East stability is more pertinent to what happens in Gaza and Ramallah than in Tehran.
The Palestine issue brings hundreds of thousands of Arabs to demonstrations in the streets of Cairo and Amman, not the Iranian nuclear program. The Iranian nuclear program, as dangerous as it may be, is also more manageable as there are numerous solutions to this problem. The West seems much more willing to back such solutions, be they diplomacy, sanctions or even war. However, what regional leaders do not see is willingness by the West to back a comprehensive solution for the issue of Palestine. Arab countries view the West as far more divided, and less willing to seriously address the peace process, which has been dragging on now for decades.
The Israeli government - facing constant calls for their elimination by Iran’s leadership - has every right to be concerned about the Islamic Republic’s nascent nuclear program. While Israel looks for ways to address this concern, it should note that progress in peace negotiations with Palestinians is a potent win-win weapon at its disposal, which it can use to strike at the heart of extremists in Tehran.
Making peaceful overtures and empowering the PLO would seriously damage Iran's calls that Israel is not interested in peace, and that force and resistance are the only language which the Israelis understand. Furthermore, withdrawal from the West Bank would free Israel from the demographic threat of losing the country's Jewish majority in the next twenty to thirty years, due to higher Palestinian birth rates. This is as big a threat, if not more so, than Iran's nuclear program. The 200 Israeli nuclear warheads which are mentioned in the foreign press are a deterrence which is very likely to make Iran think twice before attacking Israel. However, apart from withdrawal from occupied territories, Israel has no deterrence against the demographic time bomb from Palestine. Israel's military might is meaningless in this situation as it cannot be used to stop the fact that there will be more Palestinians than Israelis, and according to the laws of democracy, they will have more political rights than Israel's Jewish citizens.
Although Amr Mousa is no friend of Israel, his suggestion that Israel treats the peace process with the Palestinians more urgently happens to be consistent with Israel's best interests. Should Israel withdraw in the next couple of years, it would be to extract better terms from the Arab world, which is also eager to reach a settlement. This includes relations with 57 countries who do not recognize Israel. However, should Israel procrastinate as the number of Palestinians increase they may decide that time is on their side, therefore refusing any kind of compromise. This would seriously damage Israel's bargaining position. It may also force Israel to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank. Judging by its recent unilateral withdrawals from Gaza and South Lebanon, such acts do not necessarily bring stability, or security.
For the sake of Israel's long-term security, President Obama should pressure Prime Minister Netanyahu to push forward with the peace process. Failure to do so will undermine Israel's existence as a democratic Jewish state far more than Ayatollah Khamenei and his desire for the bomb.