In his State of the Union address last week, President Trump declared, “Recognizing that all past attempts [at Israeli-Palestinian peace] have failed, we must be determined and creative in order to stabilize the region and give millions of young people the chance to realize a better future.”
It was painful to see the president – whose policies have given all pro-Israel Americans reason to be grateful – mention the tired old fallacy that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the cause of the region’s instability. Peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will not stabilize the region. Nor will absence of peace between them destabilize it.
For years, Arab regimes and pro-Arab propagandists have energetically promoted the “linkage” argument. It serves two purposes. One is a variation on the old blame-the-Jews thesis. Trouble in the Gulf? Blame Israel. Unrest in North Africa? Blame Israel. Civil war somewhere in the Arab world? Blame Israel.
These are the arguments that were made for years by Israel critics on the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, and it’s a way of distracting people from the real causes of those conflicts.
The other purpose of the original promoters of the linkage argument was frightening the West. It’s a threat. It warns that if the West doesn’t force Israel to agree to Palestinian demands, chaos and violence will erupt throughout the region, driving up oil prices or endangering American troops stationed there.
The publications of pro-Israel organizations, such as AIPAC’s “Myths and Facts,” used to make a big deal about the mendacious nature of the linkage argument. Here’s an excerpt from the 2001 edition:
The Palestinian problem is but one of many simmering ethnic, religious and nationalistic feuds plaguing the region. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and Syria’s brutal subjugation of Lebanon are only two examples of inter-Arab warfare that has long characterized the Middle East. Here is but a partial list of other conflicts from the end of the 20th century: the 1991 Gulf War; the Iran-Iraq War; the Lebanese civil war; Libya’s interference in Chad; the Sudanese civil war; the Syria-Iraq conflict; and the war between the Polisario and Morocco…. If the Palestinian problem was solved, it would have negligible impact on the many inter-Arab rivalries that have spawned numerous wars in the region.
That was written 19 years ago. Think about all the inter-Arab and inter-Muslim conflicts that have taken place in the region since then. The Syrian civil war – 400,000 dead, seven million exiled. The civil war in Yemen, waged by Saudi and Iranian proxies. The genocide in Sudan, followed by the partition of the country. The constant violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. The revolution in Libya, followed by non-stop chaos. The takeover of Lebanon by Hezbollah. The multiple jihads waged by ISIS.
The thesis that peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will “stabilize” the Middle East is without foundation. It’s not clear why the president’s speechwriters seem to have fallen back on this old, discredited State Department playbook idea, but here’s to hoping never again to see it in a presidential address.