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Clinton Reinvents Israel

5:43 PM, Sep 22, 2011 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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Bill Clinton today blasted Benjamin Netanyahu, blaming the Israeli prime minister for the lack of progress toward peace with the Palestinians.   

Bill Clinton closeup at dedication of WWII memorial, May 2004

The errors and misstatements in Clinton’s interview with bloggers are sufficient to change his reputation from that of a firm supporter of Israel into that of a firm supporter of Israelis who agree with his twisted version of the facts. Clinton simply blames the Israeli right for killing peace efforts. He appears entirely—in fact, embarrassingly— unaware of what has actually happened to the Israeli right over the last ten years, where the change has been extraordinary.   

First, Ariel Sharon embraced Palestinian statehood in 2003, at the Aqaba Summit, and then took all Israeli settlements and bases out of Gaza in 2005. Sharon broke up his Likud Party over this, forming Kadima to back his policies. Likud fought those new Sharon policies for years, but Netanyahu is now bringing Likud, or most of it, around to supporting the basic Sharon view—that there should indeed be a Palestinian state. In his speech to the Knesset on Israeli independence day this year (May 16), ignored by Clinton (as it was by the Obama administration), Netanyahu agreed again to Palestinian statehood and the compromises it entails: “These compromises, by the way, will be hard to make because, no matter what, they involve parts of our homeland. It is not a strange land, it is the land of our forefathers, to which we have historic rights as well as security interests.” In his speech, Netanyahu also said Israel “must maintain the settlement blocs,” thereby tacitly acknowledging that every other settlement outside those few blocs may have to be given up.

Clinton also failed to note what Israel has done under Netanyahu to help the Palestinian Authority’s state-building project: Israel has allowed more and more Israeli Arabs to shop in the West Bank to help its economy, and removed scores of checkpoints and obstacles that limited mobility and economic activity there. The burst of Palestinian economic progress in the last several years, with growth rates far exceeding our own or Israel’s, must be attributed in part to Netanyahu’s policies.   

As he did last year, Clinton once again offered his vulgar, pop sociology explanation of Israel: “you've had all these immigrants coming in from the former Soviet Union, and they have no history in Israel proper, so the traditional claims of the Palestinians have less weight with them. The most pro-peace Israelis are the Arabs; second the Sabras, the Jewish Israelis that were born there; third, the Ashkenazi of long-standing, the European Jews who came there around the time of Israel's founding. The most anti-peace are the ultra-religious, who believe they're supposed to keep Judea and Samaria, and the settler groups, and what you might call the territorialists, the people who just showed up lately and they're not encumbered by the historical record.”

Natan Sharansky, one of those Soviet immigrants “who just showed up lately” and who Clinton presumably thinks does not want peace, said in response: “I am particularly disappointed by the president's casual use of inappropriate stereotypes about Israelis, dividing their views on peace based on ethnic origins.” Presumably, if you disagree with Clinton over the necessary preconditions for peace, you are against peace entirely—and you need to be denounced. The implication that someone like Sharansky, because he is an immigrant from the USSR, is “not encumbered by the historical record” and is indifferent to Palestinian claims requires no refutation; Clinton should be ashamed of himself. Unlike Clinton, whose most frequent foreign visitor to the White House (13 times!) was Yasser Arafat, Sharansky has stressed the importance of human rights and democracy as a prerequisite for a Palestinian state. Clinton was apparently quite ready to allow Arafat to create a terrorist satrapy.

Clinton also spouts off about the 2002 “Arab Initiative,” saying, “The King of Saudi Arabia started lining up all the Arab countries to say to the Israelis, ‘if you work it out with the Palestinians ... we will give you immediately not only recognition but a political, economic, and security partnership.’ … This is huge.... It's a heck of a deal."

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