Obama seems to think the road to Tehran runs through Jerusalem

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Obama’s emphasis on the peace process and lack of interest in direct negotiations with Iran over nukes suggests he may be squandering an opportunity in the election of Hassan Rouhani. David Bromwich says that Obama seems to think there is a linkage between Palestine progress and solving Iran. Bromwich wrote to me:

Why Obama should believe now (as he did in early 2009) that solving Palestine will solve Iran is a puzzle; but clearly that is his thought. Is the idea that a Palestine agreement will generate such spectacular goodwill that Iran in turn becomes a lighter burden?

Yet those who know the details (e.g. Trita Parsi in A Single Roll of the Dice) say Obama’s retreat from diplomacy with Iran in 2009–which culminated in his flat rejection of the Turkey-Brazil enrichment offer, in May 2010–was a huge lost chance. Probably bigger (and his actions certainly more mystifying) than anything relating to his gradual loss of interest in the settlement freeze.

And now with AIPAC getting Congress to vote more sanctions, Obama is
countering with a very minimal resistance to sanctions (“A senior administration official said on Wednesday the White House is not opposed to new sanctions in principle, but wants to give Rouhani a chance”). Again, why the contrast? He has a better shot at real diplomatic progress with the new president of Iran than he could
have thought possible four years ago. It’s hard to shake the impression
that he simply goes on a slower clock than the world.

As to Bromwich’s description of Obama’s belief in diplomacy with Iran in 2009, here is an excerpt of a post he did for Huffpo when Obama took on Netanyahu at the White House during a press availability in May 2009: 

[W]hen Netanyahu said the Israeli attitude toward Palestine would completely depend on the details of progress toward securing Iran against the acquisition of a single nuclear weapon, Obama replied that his view was almost the reverse. In a leader as averse as Barack Obama to the slightest public hint of personal conflict, this was a critical moment in the exchange; how far, a reporter asked Obama, did he assent to the Netanyahu concept of “linkage” — the idea that first the U.S. must deal with Iran, and a more obliging Israeli approach to Palestine will surely follow. 

Here are Obama’s remarks at that press availability: 

We are engaged in a process to reach out to Iran and persuade them that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon and that they should change course. 

There’s no doubt that it is difficult for any Israeli government to negotiate in a situation in which they feel under immediate threat.  That’s not conducive to negotiations.  And as I’ve said before, I recognize Israel’s legitimate concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon when they have a president who has in the past said that Israel should not exist.  That would give any leader of any country pause.

Having said that, if there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way.  To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians — between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat.

Having said that, I think that dealing with Iran’s potential nuclear capacity is something that we should be doing even if there already was peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  And I think that pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace is something that is in Israeli’s security interests and the United States’ national security interests, even if Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapon.  They’re both important.

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