Tillerson Embraces Middle East Linkage Theory
WASHINGTON – Aboard Air Force One on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to embrace the linkage theory of Middle East peace, as he explained President Trump’s investment in relaunching direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. “He was putting a lot of pressure on them that it was time to get to the table,” Tillerson told reporters referencing the meetings the President had with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “We solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace dilemma, we start solving a lot of the peace throughout the Middle East region,” he explained.
While Tillerson did not fully explain his comments, the mere suggestion that solving the Israeli-Palestinian is key to solving the broader problems of the Middle East in challenging violent extremism is “nonsensical,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Senior Fellow in the Center for Middle East policy at Brookings Institute. “I don’t see how resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict helps unwind the Syrian or Libyan civil wars, helps the Gulf states and Iran step back from a war in Yemen that is savaging the civilian population there, or helps defeat ISIS in Iraq or Syria or replace its rule with inclusive governance that will shut out extremists.”
Grant Rumley, an expert on Palestinian politics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Jewish Insider, “This type of language harkens back to the Bush administration era concept of ‘linkage,’ whereby solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would somehow unlock regional peace. I think time, and the Arab Spring, has largely debunked the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is somehow central to regional stability.”
At the same time, Rumley emphasized that there were some kernels of truth in Tillerson’s comments. “Certainly, one of the reasons the concept of an ‘outside-in’ approach has fallen out of favor with this White House is that Arab leaders have communicated their reticence to bring their covert relationships with Israel to light without advancement on the Palestinian front. So I do think there is a layer of truth here in that solving the ‘peace dilemma’ may give regional actors the ability to advance their relationships with Israel.”