Sec. Clinton in Middle East; Critics in a Lather
Sec. of State Hilary Clinton is heading to the MidEast this weekend with a stop at the Egyptian conference on aid for Gaza – as well as visits to Israel and the West Bank. As I’ve been reading the reports on this upcoming trip – and on the uproar about Clinton’s recent attempt to press Israel to allow aid into Gaza at a faster pace, I was struck again by how messy the state of US policy on Palestine really is.
Let’s start with what Clinton has said over the past week. She’s announced that the US will provide $900 million in aid and there are multiple reports that she and her staff have been “pressing Israel to stop blocking aid to the besieged Gaza Strip and will raise the issue during her visit next week” with “envoy George Mitchell expected to issue a strongly-worded statement on the situation” to Israel prior to Clinton’s arrival.”
These statements seem to have sent some earlier supporters of Clinton into a vitriolic tailspin (see the youtube above):
"I don’t believe that we should be in a position at this point to do anything to strengthen Hamas," Zuckerman said. "We surely know what Hamas stands for as I say they are the forward battalions of Iran." …
"Hillary had Mrs. Arafat here and she invited Mrs. Arafat for lunch when she was the first lady," added Babak Chafe of Great Neck. "She is pro-Palestinian 100 percent, really. Of course, we always knew it."
Yet at the same time Clinton and her staff were telling Israel that it is:
not making enough efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza," the paper quoted US officials as telling their Israeli counterparts last week. "The US expects Israel to meet its commitments on this matter."
there are reports that Clinton “suggested” delivery of the aid package:
depends on how well the Palestinians meet the conditions of the quartet.
"I will be announcing a commitment to a significant aid package, but it will only be spent if we determine that our goals can be furthered rather than undermined or subverted," she told Voice of America.
And of course that aid must be delivered through non-Hamas channels.
Clinton also signaled support for a rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas to form a unified Palestinian Authority – but again there’s a “but”:
"I believe that it’s important, if there is some reconciliation and a move toward a unified authority, that it’s very clear that Hamas knows the conditions that have been set forth by the quartet, by the Arab summit," she said.
Clinton reiterated those conditions, saying: "They must renounce violence, recognize Israel, and abide by previous commitments," such as the Oslo peace accords.
"Otherwise, I don’t think it will result in the kind of positive step forward either for the Palestinian people or as a vehicle for a reinvigorated effort to obtain peace that leads to a Palestinian state," Clinton said.
In the current state of US politics, Clinton’s demand that Israel allow more aid, more quickly into Gaza is an important and very positive step. Yet stepping back a bit, I also wonder if Sec. Clinton will ask Israel to renounce violence, recognize the right of the Palestinians to self-governance and abide by previous commitments even as Bibi Netanyahu — who does not support a two-state solution but does support expanding settlements in the West Bank — is forming the next Israeli government.
This inherent contradiction in our foreign policy towards Israel and Palestine inevitably undermines progress. One of the clearest examples of this schizophrenia can be seen in recent actions by the House of Representatives:
Sixty US lawmakers have urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give emergency funds to the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after its war with Israel…
"With the ceasefire now in effect, it is critical that the United States play a leading role in alleviating the suffering of civilians in Gaza and we respectfully urge your assistance in this task," they said.
Yet it should be remembered that Congress overwhelmingly supported HR 34 “Recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process” (only 4 Democrats (Kucinich, Waters, Moore and Rahall along with Ron Paul voted No, 22 voted present) in middle of the very actions which led to the suffering.
Representatives Ellison (who voted present) and Baird (who was not voting) have since shown considerably more sense. They visited Gaza last week and, upon seeing the devastation and need, made some of the clearest statements ever by US officials. Baird, noting the absurdity of Israel’s blockade on humanitarian aid said:
"When have lentil bombs been going off lately? Is someone going to kill you with a piece of macaroni?" asked Rep. Brian Baird (D-Washington).
The ban on lentils and pasta was symbolic of a policy that was "idiosyncratic and arbitrary. You look stupid and petty and over-controlling when you this," Baird said.
This kind of action only fostered extremism, he said.
"What you are doing now is going to create more rockets in the long run," he said.
Ellison added, "When people have been deprived and feel beat down long enough, you cannot make them do what you want by beating on them more. They are used to that. They know that. They have been without and they can be without," he said.
Ellison went on to say:
"Israel has legitimate security concerns, but we have to find a way [to make a change]. We all have to run some risks here. And that means the US, too," Ellison said.
Let’s hope that Sec. Clinton takes even more risks during her upcoming meetings and speaks as clearly as Ellison and Baird.