Rahm Emanuel is a good man and a good friend of Israel, but in a highly publicized recent statement he linked American efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons to Israeli efforts toward establishing a Palestinian state. This is a dangerous linkage.
I have long favored the two-state solution, as do most Israelis and American supporters of Israel. I have also long opposed civilian settlements deep into the West Bank. I hope that Israel does make efforts, as it has in the past, to establish a Palestinian state as part of an overall peace between the Jewish state and its Arab and Muslim neighbors.
Israel in 2000-2001 offered the Palestinians a state in the entire Gaza Strip and more than 95% of the West Bank, with its capital in Jerusalem and a $35 billion compensation package for the refugees. Yassir Arafat rejected the offer and instead began the second intifada in which nearly 5,000 people were killed. I hope that Israel once again offers the Palestinians a contiguous, economically-viable, politically independent state, in exchange for a real peace, with security, without terrorism and without any claim to "return" 4 million alleged refugees as a way of destroying Israel by demography rather than violence.
But the threat from a nuclear Iran is existential and immediate for Israel. It also poses dangers to the entire region, as well as to the United States. The dangers come not only from the possibility that a nation directed by suicidal leaders would order a nuclear attack on Israel or its allies, but from the likelihood that nuclear material could end up in the hands of Hezbollah, Hamas or even Al Qaeda. Recall what Hashemi Rifsanjani said to an American journalist:
[Rifsanjani] boast[ed] that an Iranian [nuclear] attack would kill as many as five million Jews. Rafsanjani estimated that even if Israel retaliated by dropping its own nuclear bombs, Iran would probably lose only fifteen million people, which he said would be a small 'sacrifice' from among the billion Muslims in the world.
Israel has the right, indeed the obligation, to take this threat seriously and to consider it as a first priority. It will be far easier for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians if it did not have to worry about the threat of a nuclear attack or a dirty bomb. It will also be easier for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank if Iran were not arming and inciting Hamas, Hezbollah and other enemies of Israel to terrorize Israel by rockets and suicide bombers. In this respect, Emanuel has it exactly backwards: if there is any linkage, it goes the other way -- defanging Iran will promote the end of the occupation and the two-state solution. Threatening not to help Israel in relation to Iran unless it moves toward a two-state solution first is likely to backfire.
After all, Israel is a democracy and in the end the people decide. A recent poll published in Haaretz concluded that 66% of Israelis favored a preemptive military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, with 75% of those saying they would still favor such a strike even if the United States were opposed.
Israel's new government will accept a two-state solution if they are persuaded that it will really be a solution -- that it will assure peace and an end to terrorist and nuclear threats to Israeli citizens. I have known Prime Minister Netanyhu for 35 years and I recently had occasion to spend some time with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. I am convinced that despite their occasional tough talk, both want to see an end to this conflict.
Israelis have been scarred by what happened in Gaza. Israel ended the occupation, removed all of the settlers, and left behind millions of dollars worth of agricultural and other facilities designed to make the Gaza into an economically-viable democracy. Land for peace is what they sought. Instead they got land for rocket attacks against their children, their women and their elderly. No one wants to see a repeat of this trade-off.
Emanuel's statements were viewed with alarm in Israel because most Israelis, though they want to like President Obama, are nervous about his policies toward Israel. They are prepared to accept pressure regarding the settlements, which are not related to Israel's security, but they worry that the Obama Administration may be ready to compromise, or at least threaten to compromise, Israel's security, if its newly elected government does not submit to pressure on the settlements. Most Israelis strongly believe that these issues must not be linked.
Making peace with the Palestinians will be extremely complicated. It will take time. It may or may not succeed in the end, depending on whether the Palestinians will continue to want their own state less than they want to see the end of the Jewish state. Israel should not be held hostage to the Iranian nuclear threat by the difficulty of making peace with the Palestinians. Recall again that Israel offered such a peace in 2000-2001, only to be rebuffed. It may be rebuffed again, especially if Palestinian radicals believe that such a rebuff will soften American action against Iran. In the meantime, Iran will continue in its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. That cannot be allowed to happen, regardless of progress on the ground toward peace with the Palestinians. These two issues must be delinked if either is to succeed. There are other ways of encouraging Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. Nuclear blackmail is not one of them.