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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 12/13/2010

Hillary Clinton's Middle East speech sounds retreat

By Jennifer Rubin

On Friday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy forum. It was a curious speech, ambiguous and somewhat defensive.

Direct talks, which actually had not been direct since Sept. 26, broke off earlier in the week. Clinton's job was to convince the audience, those in the room and in the Middle East, that the administration's failure to sustain talks was not a permanent defeat.

She acknowledged, without pleading guilty to gross incompetence or hubris, that President Obama's approach had reached a dead end:

For two years, you have heard me and others emphasize again and again that negotiations between the parties is the only path that will succeed in securing their respective aspirations; for the Israelis, security and recognition; for the Palestinians, an independent, viable sovereign state of their own. This remains true today. There is no alternative other than reaching mutual agreement. The stakes are too high, the pain too deep, and the issues too complex for any other approach.

Now, it is no secret that the parties have a long way to go and that they have not yet made the difficult decisions that peace requires. And like many of you, I regret that we have not gotten farther faster in our recent efforts. That is why yesterday and today I met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and underscored our seriousness about moving forward with refocused goals and expectations.

Translation: harping on settlements for two years got us nowhere, and now the parties won't get in the same room together.

So what does she propose? Well, the U.S. wants to get to "the core issues of the conflict on borders and security; settlements, water and refugees; and on Jerusalem itself." How is Clinton going to do this without the parties actually sitting down together? The U.S. will pursue a "framework" agreement and presumably shuttle back-and-forth between the two sides. ("And in the days ahead, our discussions with both sides will be substantive two-way conversations with an eye toward making real progress in the next few months on the key questions of an eventual framework agreement.")

There are a couple of obvious problems with this. As to a framework agreement, Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush who helped to craft an approach in which the parties actually met together, wrote earlier in September in the Post:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their "fundamental compromises" on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide. Those compromises will be balanced by no visible reward, and even a "fundamental compromise" such as "Jerusalem must be shared" or "Israel can protect its security in the West Bank" gets you nowhere without endless detail explaining what you mean. This isn't Sinai, where there was only one easily grasped and implemented decision: Would Israel would give back every square inch?

Moreover, it is nearly inconceivable that the Israelis at this point would invest much trust in either Clinton (whose tentative deal with Israel on the 90-day freeze was undercut by the White House) or in George Mitchell (who over the last few weeks was sidelined for fear of further aggravating the parties). And when Clinton utters this sort of propaganda directly from the Palestinian playbook, it certainly doesn't help matters:

We also look at our friends the Palestinians, and we remember the painful history of a people who have never had a state of their own, and we are renewed in our determination to help them finally realize their legitimate aspirations. The lack of peace and the occupation that began in 1967 continue to deprive the Palestinian people of dignity and self-determination. This is unacceptable, and, ultimately, it too is unsustainable.

Wrong, Madam Secretary. It didn't begin in 1967. In 1948 the Palestinians had their own state; they chose war. And they were offered a state again at Camp David (surely she must remember since her husband was there) and by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Moreover, missing from Clinton's list of core issues were recognition of the Jewish state and renunciation of terrorism by the Palestinians. She certainly doesn't inspire confidence in Israel or among friends of the Jewish state.

What do we make of all this? A former Middle East negotiator offered two potential interpretations. If we "take her at her word(s)," he told me, then we should expect the administration to employ the "same goal, same energy, same determination, same timetable, [but] different tactics." Or maybe this is just "a sort of cover for her backing away, toning it down, leaving it to Mitchell."

The silver lining is that expectations are non-existent for any progress, and the public hectoring of Israel by the Obama team is likely to abate. Moreover, the hopes for Israel-bashers like the J Street crowd for an "imposed" peace deal implemented by the U.S. against Israel's will seems, at least for now, not in the cards. We should, I suppose, be grateful for small favors.

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 13, 2010; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Hillary Clinton, Israel  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Friday question answered
Next: Liberal disappointments = Obama moderation?


Wrong, Madam Rubin. It didn't begin in 1967. In 1948 the Palestinians had their own state; the zionist chose to colonize it for their own.

Posted by: Thoughtful-Ted | December 13, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Great -- another screed chockful of Rubin-eque logic.

Let's see . . .

1. The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

2. Israel just wants peace with its neighbors, Palestine wants war and terror.

3. Israel is a light upon nations, it will make the desert bloom. The $3 billion in aid coming from the US is not really needed, but is more for America's benefit.

4. There is no daylight between America's foreign policy interests and Israel's.

5. Israel's refusal to make peace with the Palestinians and use of white phosphorus on the children of Gaza has no impact whatsoever on America's standing and credibility in the region -- they hate us for our freedoms!

6. Israel's conduct does not put American soldiers at greater risk of harm, David Petraeus "misspoke" or "was taken out of context."

Yep, Jennifer is right as rain. The Israelis have no incentive to seek peace, not with a weakened and ineffectual Obama muttering AIPAC lines such as "stalwart ally" and "unshakable bond" about Israel, even after it incinerates innocent women and children with white phosphorus and shears off their limbs with DIME Cube bombs.

Posted by: ConscientiousObjector1 | December 13, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse


The Palestinians never had "their own state"- not in 1948, not ever.

Posted by: Lumiere1 | December 13, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

The "1967 borders" are the 1949 Armistice line.

Let's get really creative and offer a population exchange. All the Palestinian Muslims move to Iraq and Egypt. All the persecuted Iraqi Christians and Egyptian Coptic Christians relocate to Gaza and Judea and Samaria.

Problem solved.

Posted by: K2K2 | December 13, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

When is Hillary going to make a big speech that reads:
"...We also look at our friends the KURDS, and we remember the painful history of a people who have never had a state of their own, and we are renewed in our determination to help them finally realize their legitimate aspirations. The lack of peace and the TURKISH NATIONALIST occupation that began in 1919 continue to deprive the KURDISH people of dignity and self-determination. This is unacceptable, and, ultimately, it too is unsustainable. ..."

Posted by: K2K2 | December 13, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, how are Clinton's statements directly from the Palestinian playbook? They are each fair statements that fall short of matching our historically patronizing rhetoric about Israel, and stating the hard fact that Israel's illegal occupation and illegal settlements are a form of apartheid and outright land theft: they have to cease these policies completely before any sincere negotiation can commence. Dot. Full stop.

The entire world of nations realizes this.

Posted by: mgilmour8 | December 13, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse


That has already happened in Iraq where the Kurds thanks to our semi-protection have what is effectively their own autonomous region.. Look for complete independence in the break up of Iraq, follwoiing soon after our departure.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 13, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse


And 2+2 still equals 4.

Posted by: cavalier4 | December 13, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I realize this is an op-ed piece, but it never ceases to amaze me to what degree American Pro-Israel proponents will go to in support of Israel.

Jennifer, I believe you are likely an intelligent, intellectual person so I'm confounded by how you could turn away from the following which you must know to be true: 1) Israelis want a two-state solution, at least eventually, as a one-state solution would destroy the Jewishness of Israel. 2) In the interim, it is obvious that the Israelis are continuing settlements and implementing oppressive tactics in an effort to obtain more land. 3) While Palestinians "chose war" in 1948, who would not have done so under those same circumstances? A colonizing group primarily of Europeans, representing roughly 33% of the land's population in '48, that had represented less than 2% fifty years earlier, and a group that held less than 3% title ownership of the land, wanted to create a Jewish state which allocated them virtually all of the prime real estate, including the coast, while the indigenous people were relegated to barren in-land desert soil. 4) When the Palestinians denied the establishment of a Jewish state on their land, they entered a conflict which resulted in many fleeing and others forced from their homes, with many of these joining other Palestinians already in the West Bank, which was never Israel's territory under any notional international agreement. 5) Since the '67 war, Israel has attempted to claim even this territory, the place where the people they evicted from their homes in present-day Israel fled to back in '48.

Unless you are to be intellectually dishonest, you have to recognize these five points. If you can do that, then I have to ask how you can support Israel's acquisition of these territories, ethically or morally, and total U.S. support for that acquisition?

Posted by: mgilmour8 | December 13, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Now that Rubin has resigned from Contentions/Commentary,we're hearing some improved opinions there.

Good Advice from Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh
Evelyn Gordon - 12.13.2010 - 9:51 AM
I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:
OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Rubin would never have brought this into play at Contentions.

Posted by: rcaruth | December 13, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse


You are correct, the Palestinians did not have their own state in '48 or at any other time. But no matter how one attempts to re-write history, they are the indigenous people of the land of present-day Israel and the Illegally Occupied Territories. They have been there for thousands of years, continually, before the first Jews, even the Hebrew Bible acknowledges their presence.

Likewise, the Native American Indians never had a state by its formal definition, i.e., recognized as such with borders by other states -- not even the Sioux Nation meets this definition. Yet for Americans it is quite easy to understand the Native American's rights to the land as indigenous people. They are directly analogous to the Palestinians who, instead of receiving reparations, receive apartheid.

Posted by: mgilmour8 | December 13, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Obama and his Mitchell want Israel to tell them where Israel's borders will be? but Netanyahu lectured them that before he even talk about borders, he wants not only Palestinians but the Arab world should recognize Israel. Palestinians and America should provide full-proof security guarantee of Israel and Palestinians should forget refugees problem. In short he does not want to open his cards but would like to see others and wants to change too. What a crook he is and our leaders who are begging for his favor. For Palestinians nothing is left except living in occupation for life and charity of the western world.

Posted by: citysoilverizonnet | December 13, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer- Your slanted, propagandist version of both past and present events hardly encourages meaningful dialogue. In your world it would seem that everyone is simply divided into two groups- the people who are pro-Israel and the people who are anti-Israel. You clearly seem to think this administration falls into the latter category due to their "hectoring" of Israel, as if it is somehow totally unacceptable for the U.S. to request that Israel temporarily refrain from building illegal settlements on land that is the subject of negotiations.

You then go on to toss out an ad hominem attack against J Street, whose major crime seems to have been to dare to express an opinion about Mideast peace that is different than yours. The arrogance is astounding.

You take issue with Secretary Clinton for doing what diplomats do- being diplomatic during her speech. I guess the only thing that would have made you happy is if she stood at the podium screaming that all Palestinians are terrorists and Israel never has and never will be possible of doing any wrong.

Your insistence on dumbing down the conversation and reducing it to nothing but slanted, propagandist talking points is part of the problem. It's a means to try to stifle debate that includes a diversity of opinions and it's why the status quo never changes. People like you try to attack anyone that dares to challenge the parties (specifically, Israel) involved to make the hard choices that are necessary to forge a lasting peace.

Posted by: Stacyx | December 13, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

You have written, “Moreover, the hopes for Israel-bashers like the J Street crowd for an "imposed" peace deal implemented by the U.S. against Israel's will seems, at least for now, not in the cards.” I suppose you have not been paying much attention to the developments in the last two or three weeks. Only yesterday, the EU clearly sent a message to the White House that it is running out of patience with Israel’s flaunting International Laws and UN resolutions by continuing to build its illegal settlements in the occupied territories, and that if no significant progress is made by the next spring, it will go ahead and recognize the state of Palestine as established within the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Coming on the heels of Brazil’s and Argentina’s declarations recognizing Palestine, and Uruguay’s declaration that it will recognize Palestine in 2011, most likely in January, I have no doubt in my mind that the momentum is slowly moving towards the Palestinians. There is a good reason for all these developments, I suppose: the Gaza War. After witnessing the horrors and brutality of the Gaza War, the heart-wrenching scenes of dozens of tiny Palestinian toddlers burnt alive by phosphorus bombs, all covered in vivid colors on live TV by both the BBC and Al Jazeera, the world has seen Israel in new light.

The newly restarted stalled peace negotiations will stall again within a few weeks. All indicators are that the Israel-Palestine conflict is headed to the UN Security Council for resolution. The UN Security Council does only a few things the best: It specializes in imposing conditions, sanctions, and passing resolutions condemning nations that disregard International Laws. In other words, the UN derives great satisfaction in condemning international bullies. When I thought of international bullies, for some mysterious reason, the name Israel just popped up in my mind. Secretary of State Clinton has said that the creation of Palestine is inevitable. And I agree. It is only a matter of time before the state of Palestine comprising of the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, will rise, and proudly raise its flag in East Jerusalem. Almost the entire world thinks that Palestinians have suffered long enough.
Yesh Prabhu, Bushkill, Pennsylvania

Posted by: Yesh_Prabhu | December 13, 2010 11:58 PM | Report abuse

This whole Israeli-Palestinian affair should have been a small thing to deal with in the first place, an item of trifling importance. The mind of Man is more than able to halt such a process. Yet, somehow, we still find ourselves standing before it, as powerless and ineffective as ever. And this for well over half a century.

If the conflict seems too big an obstacle to surmount, then one alternative here is 'circumvention.' We bypass it; we outmanoeuvre it, we go around it and emerge on the other side. From here, the position is transformed; we find we have mastered the situation - and in a manner far superior to anything previously encountered.

And just how do we do that?

We don't give up trying to find a solution.
We look as impartially as we can at the situation as it stands.
We focus on the realities that drive it.
We favour neither side in particular; we treat and ascribe to both in equal measure, no special allowances.
We recognise the basic rights of individuals and communities to freedom from physical and emotional harm and access to swift justice if such harm is instigated.

In short, we kick it in the balls just about as hard and as fast as we can...

Posted by: Yorke1845 | December 14, 2010 4:44 AM | Report abuse

when will the American jew wake up and stop supporting the party that seeks Israel's destruction...

Posted by: DwightCollins | December 14, 2010 6:13 AM | Report abuse

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