Is Palestinian-Israeli Peace the Key to Happiness in the Middle East?

Among many Middle East analysts, particularly those of the so-called "realist" school of foreign policy thought, "linkage" is a holy doctrine. It holds that peaceful compromise between Israel and the Palestinians will lead to a generally placid Middle East. But it's a false notion. One of its more famous advocates is Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee to be secretary of defense.

In my Bloomberg View column, I look at Hagel's views, and try to understand how linkage became such a dominant doctrine when it is so provably false:

"The core of all challenges in the Middle East remains the underlying Arab-Israeli conflict," Hagel said in 2006. "The failure to address this root cause will allow Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorists to continue to sustain popular Muslim and Arab support -- a dynamic that continues to undermine America's standing in the region and the Governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and others, whose support is critical for any Middle East resolution."

As Martin Kramer wrote: "The vocabulary here -- 'core,' 'root cause,' 'underlying' -- is taken from the standard linkage lexicon, which elevates the Arab-Israeli or Palestinian-Israeli conflict to a preeminent status." He continued: "It is this conflict, practically alone, that prompts the rise of terrorists, weakens friendly governments, and makes it impossible for the United States to win Arabs and Muslims over to the good cause."

In his 2008 book, "America: Our Next Chapter," Hagel wrote that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "cannot be looked at in isolation. Like a stone dropped into a placid lake, its ripples extend out farther and farther. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon feel the effects most noticeably. Farther still, Afghanistan and Pakistan; anything that impacts their political stability also affects the two emerging economic superpowers, India and China."

I would love to hear Hagel's views on this subject today, because his theory of linkage -- and his belief that a Middle East freed from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would be a "placid lake" -- has been utterly discredited by events. It is, of course, vital to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it is true that some Islamist terrorist groups exploit the conflict as a recruiting tool. But these same terrorists are unalterably opposed to a compromise that would allow two states, Israel and Palestine, to live side by side, because they are opposed to the very existence of Israel. They try to subvert the peace process because they fear it will legitimize the existence of a country they hate.

Never mind this technical detail. The past two years have proved the theory of linkage to be comprehensively false anyway.

Come with me on a quick tour of the greater Middle East. The Syrian civil war? Unrelated to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The slow disintegration of Yemen? Unrelated. Chaos and violence in Libya? Unrelated. Chaos and fundamentalism in Egypt? The creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank would not have stopped the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, nor would it have stopped the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Terrorism in Algeria? Unrelated. The Iranian nuclear program? How would the creation of a Palestinian state have persuaded the Iranian regime to cease its pursuit of nuclear weapons? Someone please explain. Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq? The unrest in Bahrain? Pakistani havens for al-Qaeda affiliates? All unrelated.

You can read the rest of the column here.

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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