Elections and Dissonance in the Middle East
By Elaine C. Hagopian, Counterpunch, Aug 7 – 9, 2009
Obama came into office vowing to resolve the Palestine question. He also vowed to approach the ME with civility and diplomacy, especially Iran, to iron out issues of mutual concern. The two-pronged plan was aimed at removing the Palestine question from the regional agenda, clearing the deck for improved relations with area states and resolution of existing US/ME issues. The February Israeli election yielded Netanyahu as Prime Minister presiding over an ultra right wing government. Netanyahu rejected Obama’s call for establishing a Palestinian state. He argued that Iran’s nuclear program with its assumed threat to Israel and to US interests was the primary issue to address, not Palestine. With the June election of anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist, Holocaust denier Ahmedinejad, Netanyahu claimed that the danger Iran represents increased precipitously, and aggressive action was required. Therefore, Palestine should be put on the back burner. Public dissonance between the U.S. and Israel over Obama’s Palestine and Iran agenda amplified after Iran’s presidential election. The dissonance threatens Obama’s efforts to defuse ME volatility.
President Obama entered office with a promise of business not as usual. Although American foreign policy objectives were not changed, Obama insisted on the priority of dialogue and diplomacy to realize them, Afghanistan (and Pakistan) notwithstanding. Obama articulated two immediate goals he sought in the Middle East: 1) to resolve the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in accordance with the international consensus for a two-state solution without significantly alienating Israel. Israel is still considered important – wrongly as Mearsheimer and Walt (“The Israel Lobby,” LRB, 23 March 2006) would have it – to securing American economic interests and political hegemony in that region. As such, the US must guarantee key Israeli ME interests including area dominance. And 2) to dissolve, or at least checkmate the only regional alliance challenging US/Israeli designs in the ME, i.e., the alliance of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and political elements in Iraq. Moving to resolve the Palestine question is seen by Obama as contributing to deflating the Iranian-led anti-US/Israel alliance by removing it as its cause célèbre, and thus making key alliance members amenable to American outreach. The thinking is that achieving these two interdependent goals would allow less hindered US maneuverability in taming Islamist movements in the region and prevailing in the energy grand game there.