An excellent strategy if Israel can stick to it

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is said to have decided that it will not move ahead on serious peace talks with Palestinians until it sees progress in U.S. efforts to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. This is statecraft at its best.

First, Israel’s approach is consistent with its interests. For Israel, Iran’s progress on the nuclear front is the most pressing problem; resolving issues with the Palestinians is of much less concern. After all, Iran, a sworn enemy, may be on the verge of developing weapons that could destryy Israel. The Palestinians, though still capable of small acts of terrorism, pose no such threat.

Second, it creates something like a win-win situation for Israel. In the highly unlikely event that Obama produces serious progress in curbing Iran’s nuclear program, that’s a big win for Israel. If Obama does not produce such progress, Israel has a basis for resisting his entreaties to engage with the Palestinians (naturally, if Israel concludes that such engagement is in its interest, it can proceed on that basis anyway). Nor is Israel precluded by Obama’s failure from taking action of its own against Iran, should it conclude that such action is necessary.

The Obama administration will be none-too-pleased by Israel’s new approach. Obama probably knows he can’t accomplish anything meaningful on the Iran front, and it’s questionable that this is anything close to a priority for him in any event. He also knows that, unlike Iran, Israel takes American wishes seriously. And, as a typical left-winger, Obama would love to do something for the Palestinians. Thus, it is not surprising that, as the Washington Post notes, Israel’s priorities — Iran first, then the Palestinians — are the opposite of Obama’s But then, a nuclear Iran is a much greater threat to Israel than to the U.S. And the U.S. would not have to live next to a Palestinian state.

Because Israel’s new approach runs contrary to Obama’s agenda, the U.S. will pressure Israel to back away from it. If Israel sticks to its guns, it is likely that the U.S. will act in ways designed to undermine Netanyahu’s standing with his own people.

But this is likely to happen anyway. Another virtue of Israel’s new approach is that it provides Netanyahu with a basis for resisting U.S. pressure that is totally in line with Israeli public opinion. Iran is the overriding concern of Israeli voters and probably the main reason why Netanyahu came to power. Thus, as much as they wish to be on the good side of the U.S., Israelis are unlikely to turn on Netanyahu for resisting U.S. pressure to focus on peace talks with the Palestinians in the absence of meaningful U.S. help in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.

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