Israeli Opposition Leader Endorses Notion That Lack Of Middle East Peace Damages Regional Interests

Last year, right-wing darling Gen. David Petraeus caused quite a stir among conservatives for endorsing the (seemingly obvious) idea that America’s relationship with Israel and that relationship’s failure to help bring about a lasting peace with the Palestinians damages U.S. interests in the wider Middle East. “Insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace,” he said in a statement to Congress, is the first among “a number of cross-cutting issues that serve as major drivers of instability, inter-state tensions, and conflict” that “can serve as root causes of instability or as obstacles to security”:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR [area of responsibility]. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. […] Al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.”

Israel hawks and neocons like to dismiss this line of thinking — so-called “linkage” — because, as CAP’s Matt Duss once noted, they think “the U.S.-Israel relationship exists in a sort of hermetically sealed bubble, separated from the U.S.’s other challenges in the region, generating no negative externalities for U.S. interests.”

But his idea isn’t just an American one. Reporting from the annual Herzliya Conference in Israel, Duss writes that in a keynote address, former foreign minister and current opposition leader Tzipi Livni endorsed linkage:

“I do not believe Israel is the source of extremism in region,but the conflict has influenced both existing peace agreements with our neighbors, and impacted our ability to change reality in region. […] We don’t have border conflicts with Egypt and Jordan, but this is a cold peace. It is a cold peace because of the linkage between the conflict and our relationship with these countries. … These governments have had to cope with hostile public opinion because of conflict.”

During Israel’s national election campaign in 2009, Livni, running the be the country’s next prime minister, told an American journalist that she would evacuate Jewish settlers in the West Bank in order to achieve peace and advance a Palestinian state. Yet after challenger and now-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he wouldn’t evacuate settlements, Livni was “forced to disassociate herself from the understandings.”

At the same time, Livni seems to understand the impact the settlements have. Referring to the breakdown of direct talks over Netanyahu’s refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement construction in her speech today, Duss adds that Livni said “It’s not a matter of just building a few new houses. We need to choose between that [settlements] and the continuation of negotiations.”