07/06/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

In A Shift, Dennis Ross Recognizes Middle East 'Linkage'

The Cable's Josh Rogin reports that "the National Security Council's Dennis Ross is the latest U.S. official to link the Obama administration's drive to secure peace between Israelis and Arabs to the overall goal of bringing greater stability to the region and combating the threat from Iran":

"In this region, pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context," Ross said in remarks Monday evening. "Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges... It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances."

This is pretty significant, as Ross has previously been a serious skeptic of the linkage argument. In the second chapter of his book "Myths, Illusions, and Peace" -- entitled "Linkage: The Mother of All Myths" -- he and co-author David Makovsky wrote:

Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away. This is the argument of "linkage."

As I wrote shortly after the book was published, there is no one who has ever claimed that "if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away." What has been claimed, and what is acknowledged by a pretty overwhelming consensus of Middle East scholars and analysts, (and, since then, General David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates) is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a source of anger and tension across the region, a radicalizing driver of violence, and a valuable propaganda tool for extremists.

It's quite true that hostility toward Israel in the Middle East will not simply dissipate upon the end of Israel's occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state. Nor will anti-Americanism disappear even if the U.S. is seen as having played a major role in producing such an outcome. There are problems in the Middle East that have nothing to do with Israelis or Palestinians. Securing a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will, however, make addressing those problems easier, by sealing up one well of resentment from which authoritarian rulers and violent extremists have for decades drawn freely and profitably. This is the actual argument of "linkage," and it's quite important that such a key player on the Obama team as Dennis Ross now acknowledges it.

The venue for Ross's comments -- the annual conference of the Anti-Defamation League -- is also worth noting. ADL national director Abe Foxman has strongly criticized linkage as a "dangerous and counterproductive" concept, issuing a March statement criticizing Gen. Petraeus for acknowledging it, saying that Petraeus had "simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel." It will be interesting to see how Foxman and the rest of the linkage deniers respond to the concept's adoption by such a stalwart Israel-supporter as Ross.