In the fall of 2010, Martin Indyk, former Ambassador of the USA to Israel, said that it is “far more effective to try to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Arab states and the Palestinians…. [to achieve] a more stable, peaceful and prosperous order for anybody in the Middle East.” This is what became known as the “linkage” argument: work out the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and all of the problems in the Middle East will be solved.
Despite the so-called “Arab Spring” having proven the fallacy of this theory – which was already highly questionable given centuries old historical facts – many in the US administration continue believing in this “linkage.” Kerry’s frequent flyer program to the Middle East appears to be based on this premise.
I’ll beg not only to differ – many have done so and given solid reasons in disputing this hypothesis – but to present a totally different perspective: it’s the other way around. It’s what I would name the “spillover theory” rather than the “linkage theory.” Eliminate the breeding grounds and you’ll eliminate the spillover of terrorism. Eliminate Muslim extremism, and in the course of eliminating the radicalism that feeds many of the disputes in the Middle East and the world, we will also see a better chance for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
For a long time Muslim extremism has been the source of instability all over the world: the disputes between Sunnis and Shiites and most notably the extremist factions among them is many centuries old, and have been the breeding ground for all the violence that we have been witnessing.
A documentary produced by the BBC earlier this year, which unfortunately had limited reach, exposed the sectarian bloodshed among the Sunni and Shi’a, and how the broadcasting of hate fuels violence. When you look at the things displayed in the documentary – from the highly inflammatory broadcasts by imams in public TV, all the way to the atrocious killings between the groups – you can see where Hamas and Hezbollah get their training and methods, and why potential moderate leaders are afraid to stand up.
I once attended a debate, sponsored by a well-known think-tank, between a Palestinian and an Israeli, both former members of their respective negotiating teams. At one point during the debate, the Palestinian turned to the Israeli and the small audience, smiled, and said, “…but behind the scenes we agree on many things, don’t we?” – to which the Israeli nodded positively. When the debate ended, I approached the Palestinian, who was accompanied by the head of the think-tank and asked: “Why don’t you agree on those things in public, rather than behind the scenes?” At that point the head of the think-tank intervened and said “You know he would be dead the next day if he agrees on anything with the Israelis, don’t you?”
This was a good illustration of the problem.
Now, with all the technology that the West has – particularly the United States – including drones, surveillance, tracing money laundering, and many other things that we may not even know about, why isn’t the West engaging more forcefully in the elimination of the Muslim extremism? Why isn’t the United States more aggressively breaking the backbone of the known financiers of Muslim radicals on both sides?
Rather than focusing on the linkage theory, the United States and its allies should apply their resources – intelligence and military – toward eliminating the spillover at its source. Only then may we see a chance of something positive happening.