I’m whacked by a party hack

Ira N. Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, has taken a whack at my recent op-ed on Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Affairs essay. In that piece, I examined Hillary’s text, I decoded its message on Israel and the Palestinians, and I suggested that it deviated from pronouncements she’s made elsewhere. Forman calls my exegesis a “tawdry political stunt… filled with shaky logic and intellectual dishonesty.” But he doesn’t attempt to refute my exegesis of her essay, which seems to echo the pressure-Israel-and-push-for-Palestine preferences of the foreign policy establishment.

Instead, he does two things. First, he hails Hillary as “a great supporter of Israel throughout her career.” He cites her “impeccable voting record” in the Senate, her advocacy for Red Cross recognition of Magen David Adom, her accolades in the Orthodox newspaper The Jewish Press, and so on. But all this begs the question that I asked: Why does the Foreign Affairs piece send an equivocal message about Israel? Why is it inconsistent with other statements she’s made? “Who is the real Hillary, behind the triangulation?” I asked. “Who knows?” Perhaps Forman knows which of her statements express the real Hillary, and which ones to discard. But what are the rest of us supposed to do, those who aren’t Democratic party insiders like him? Take his word for it and ignore the contradictions?

Second, Forman accuses me of double standards. I’m critical of Hillary, he claims, for proposing the very same diplomatic agenda now being pursued by the Bush Administration at Annapolis. Forman:

If this passage [of Hillary’s essay] were truly objectionable, surely Kramer would say the same about the Bush Administration’s efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian agreements at Annapolis. And what, Mr. Kramer, are we to think of Condoleezza Rice’s assertion that “We appear to be on course to prepare seriously for continuous ongoing negotiations,” and that “I can really say without fear of contradiction that everybody’s goal is the creation” of a Palestinian state?

Perhaps the biggest discernable difference in Kramer’s eyes is that Clinton’s comments were made by a Democrat–and political foe–while Rice’s were made by a Republican political ally. Mr. Kramer is a member of Rudy Giuliani’s foreign policy team.

Well, Mr. Forman, you obviously haven’t been a big reader of mine, or you’d know that I haven’t hesitated to criticize the Bush Administration when I’ve deemed it to be wrong-headed. Four years ago, I dissented from Bush’s first big democracy speech, and compared him to Jimmy Carter. I did it again after Hamas won Palestinian elections in January of last year. Last June, I appeared at a conference in Prague hours before the President did, and challenged him on the same issue. In a profile over the summer, I was quoted (accurately) as saying: “I saw myself in a debate mode with President Bush” over democracy promotion. So I’ve called them as I’ve seen them all along.

As for Annapolis, I haven’t written about it, but I’ve spoken about it. So here, for the record, is what I said on October 19, at a closed event of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The panel was devoted to the Middle East in the 2008 elections, and I shared the podium with Ambassador Dennis Ross. I always speak from prepared remarks, and this is what I said:

Many of the candidates have records of strong support for Israel. But the more relevant question is who has learned from 9/11 to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in proper perspective, and not overvalue the “peace process” as a panacea. Giuliani spoke to this in his Foreign Affairs piece, where he wrote this:

“The Palestinian people need decent governance first, as a prerequisite for statehood. Too much emphasis has been placed on brokering negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians–negotiations that bring up the same issues again and again. It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist the creation of another state that will support terrorism. Palestinian statehood will have to be earned through sustained good governance, a clear commitment to fighting terrorism, and a willingness to live in peace with Israel. America’s commitment to Israel’s security is a permanent feature of our foreign policy.”

This was misinterpreted in some of the press to mean that Giuliani opposes a Palestinian state. He didn’t say that, but he does dissent from the overvaluation of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The war against radical Islam takes precedence. A Palestinian state won’t necessarily contribute to winning it, and such a state could ally itself with our enemies, if it doesn’t rest on the firm foundations of good governance and fighting terror.

Significantly, Giuliani affirms that the Palestinians have yet to earn their state. This was once the position of the Bush Administration, which seems of late to have abandoned it in a go-for-broke gamble. So we see Secretary of State Rice in Ramallah announcing that “Frankly, it’s time for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” and that such a state is “absolutely essential for the future, not just of Palestinians and Israelis but also for the Middle East and indeed to American interests.” To judge from the situation on the ground, frankly, it may not be the time, nor is it clear in what way this state’s creation is absolutely essential to US interests.

As we’ve seen time and again, such statements only free the Palestinians from doing what needs to be done to earn their statehood. Only by pushing the so-called political horizon back, not forward, is there any chance the Palestinians will run to reach it. The over-privileged “peace process,” as traditionally configured, has had the opposite of its intended effect, making the two-state solution still more remote. It needs to be re-engineered.

I provide input to the Giuliani campaign, not output, so I speak only for myself when I say that Annapolis seems to me a textbook case of how not to move forward.

My critic, Ira Forman, is a professional party hack, so he’s written the only thing he could have written. I’d urge voters, especially those with a keen interest in Israel, to do what I’ve done: think independently, judge the policies offered by candidates for their cogency and consistency, and make a choice without regard to party. It’s the American way.

Hillary: Triangulation on Israel?

The following op-ed by Martin Kramer appears in the Jerusalem Post, November 5, 2007.

Hillary Clinton has published her foreign policy agenda in Foreign Affairs magazine, under the title “Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-First Century.” The one paragraph on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict draws deeply on the notions that “resolving the conflict” should be America’s top priority, that both sides are equally at fault for the “violence,” and that Palestinians need only make promises to earn statehood. The passage strongly suggests that Hillary’s support for Israel is more “triangulated” than many have assumed.

Here is the passage in full:

Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians. The fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000: a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a declaration that the conflict is over, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, guarantees of Israeli security, diplomatic recognition of Israel, and normalization of its relations with Arab states. U.S. diplomacy is critical in helping to resolve this conflict. In addition to facilitating negotiations, we must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace and willing to engage in a dialogue with the Israelis. Whether or not the United States makes progress in helping to broker a final agreement, consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.

THIS IS a carefully crafted paragraph, loaded with allusions and references that the casual reader is likely to miss, but that send a clear signal on the high frequency of the “peace process.” The message is this: a Hillary administration would constantly busy itself with Israeli-Palestinians talks, regardless of their prospects, and would strive to avoid any appearance of partiality–toward Israel.

The hyper-activism is made explicit in the promise of “consistent U.S. involvement,” “whether or not the United States makes progress.”

This is exactly what the US did during the Clinton years, when Yasser Arafat visited the White House 11 times, and met with President Clinton 24 times. Not only did this “consistent involvement” at the highest level not produce any progress, it raised the expectations of Palestinians to an absurd level, leaving them more intransigent and belligerent than they were at the outset.

Obsessive US diplomacy eventually blew up in Washington’s face when Arafat launched a so-called “intifada” against Israel in 2000.

IT IS ALL the more astonishing, then, that Hillary, who witnessed the debacle from up close, thinks “consistent US involvement,” whatever its outcome, will “lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.” She ignores precisely the lesson inflicted upon us by the failed policy of the Clinton administration: If the US obsessively tinkers with this issue without result, it is bound to raise the level of violence and damage our credibility.

In this same sentence, Hillary makes another nod toward the Palestinian position. She imagines that all this busy “involvement” will somehow “reduce violence.” Aside from the probability that it would have the opposite effect, the very choice of the word “violence” evokes the infamous phrase “cycle of violence,” by which Israelis and Palestinians are deemed equally responsible for the bloodshed.

That the Palestinians have deliberately cultivated a culture of terrorism, celebrating suicide bombers, is entirely lost in this formulation. Instead of terrorism, there is only “violence,” which includes both the suicide-bomb dispatchers and the Israeli operations to stop them. By avoiding the word “terrorism,” Hillary adopts a position of studied neutrality.

WHAT HILLARY calls the “fundamental elements of a final agreement” are also carefully tailored to lower the bar for the Palestinians. They are to receive a state in return for a “declaration that the conflict is over,” “recognition of Israel’s right to exist,” and “guarantees of Israeli security” (emphasis added). In other words, Palestinians are not expected to do anything, only issue a surfeit of declarations and promises.

During the Clinton administration, the White House collected a mountain of these Palestinian chits, which turned out to be worthless. Hillary makes no mention whatsoever of Palestinians actually fighting terrorism (not that word!), and says nothing at all about the need for good governance and accountability. In short, she would ask the Palestinians simply to make the sort of promises Arafat made to her husband, as though we had not learned the hard way to demand that Palestinians perform.

In fact, the entire premise of Hillary’s statement is that we can go back to the innocence of 2000, before the crash. She deliberately evokes the legacy of her husband when she writes that the “fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000” (emphasis added), i.e., when Bill Clinton presented his “parameters” at Camp David.

Clear to whom? Arafat rejected them then, Hamas (now far stronger than it was in 2000) has always regarded a final settlement with Israel as anathema, and even Mahmoud Abbas cannot bring himself to make the necessary concessions.

Nor does Hillary consider that perhaps the Palestinians, having chosen to wage war against Israel in 2000, should be made to expect less than what they might have had in 2000. Instead, she implies that the game should be resumed precisely at the point where Arafat walked off the field and began to shoot. The Palestinians did not gain by war, she implies, but certainly they did not lose.

ONE OF THE things they should have lost is any serious consideration of the so-called “right of return” of Palestinian “refugees” (the large majority of whom are descendants of refugees) to Israel proper. President Bush said as much to Mahmoud Abbas at the Akaba summit in 2003, announcing that “a democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state(emphasis added).

The Palestinians insist that they will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, because this effectively negates their “right of return.” Hillary herself, in a statement made in September, said she personally “believes that Israel’s right to exist in safety as a Jewish state… must never be questioned.” Yet Hillary’s formula in the Foreign Affairs piece invites the Palestinians to do just that, asking them simply to “recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

A Palestinian can only read this as an invitation to hold firm to the bogus “right of return” (and hold out against the Bush-Rice diplomatic surge in anticipation of a Hillary administration).

THERE IS another nod to the Palestinians at the top of the passage: “Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians.” This nicely exonerates the Palestinians of responsibility for ditching diplomacy and waging war. Instead, it is the US that must say a mea culpa for allowing itself to be distracted from the cause of Palestine by something as insignificant, in comparison, as the liberation of 27 million Iraqis.

In fact, had the Palestinians, at any moment, shown themselves ready to fight terror and make the compromises necessary for peace, the Bush Administration would have taken up the burden. (Even absent that, President Bush greatly strengthened the US commitment to a Palestinian state.) The sentence seems to be an effort to enlist supporters of a renewed “peace process” behind the quit-Iraq agenda, although it is a mystery how simply “getting out of Iraq,” as opposed to victory in Iraq, would position the US to play a “constructive role” anywhere in the Middle East.

In September, Hillary issued a statement on Israel designed to bolster her standing among pro-Israel voters. Her Foreign Affairs piece, aimed at the wider foreign policy establishment, takes a very different line.

Who is the real Hillary, behind the triangulation? Who knows?

The Foreign Affairs article is intended to be the point of reference for any future Hillary administration. For supporters of Israel, it can only give rise to the most profound misgivings. These are not formulas used by Israel’s friends.

Martin Kramer is Olin Institute senior fellow at Harvard University, and senior Middle East adviser to the presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani. These views are his own.