On the night of September 19, 2006, I was up in New York covering the Clinton Global Initiative as a journalist/blogger and extremely impressed with the vitality and relationships of Bill Clinton’s global network.
Earlier that day, President Bush addressed the UN General Assembly and focused heavily on how to get US policy in the Middle East on a better course. In particular, he focused on establishing a State of Palestine.
The world must also stand up for peace in the Holy Land. I’m committed to two democratic states — Israel and Palestine — living side-by-side in peace and security.
I’m committed to a Palestinian state that has territorial integrity and will live peacefully with the Jewish state of Israel. This is the vision set forth in the road map — and helping the parties reach this goal is one of the great objectives of my presidency.
The Palestinian people have suffered from decades of corruption and violence and the daily humiliation of occupation. Israeli citizens have endured brutal acts of terrorism and constant fear of attack since the birth of their nation. Many brave men and women have made the commitment to peace. Yet extremists in the region are stirring up hatred and trying to prevent these moderate voices from prevailing.
This struggle is unfolding in the Palestinian territories. Earlier this year, the Palestinian people voted in a free election. The leaders of Hamas campaigned on a platform of ending corruption and improving the lives of the Palestinian people, and they prevailed.
The world is waiting to see whether the Hamas government will follow through on its promises, or pursue an extremist agenda. And the world has sent a clear message to the leaders of Hamas: Serve the interests of the Palestinian people. Abandon terror, recognize Israel’s right to exist, honor agreements, and work for peace.
President Abbas is committed to peace, and to his people’s aspirations for a state of their own. Prime Minister Olmert is committed to peace, and has said he intends to meet with President Abbas to make real progress on the outstanding issues between them.
I believe peace can be achieved, and that a democratic Palestinian state is possible. I hear from leaders in the region who want to help. I’ve directed Secretary of State Rice to lead a diplomatic effort to engage moderate leaders across the region, to help the Palestinians reform their security services, and support Israeli and Palestinian leaders in their efforts to come together to resolve their differences.
Prime Minister Blair has indicated that his country will work with partners in Europe to help strengthen the governing institutions of the Palestinian administration. We welcome his initiative. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Egypt have made clear they’re willing to contribute the diplomatic and financial assistance necessary to help these efforts succeed.
I’m optimistic that by supporting the forces of democracy and moderation, we can help Israelis and Palestinians build a more hopeful future and achieve the peace in a Holy Land we all want.
Freedom, by its nature, cannot be imposed — it must be chosen. From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom. And the nations gathered in this chamber must make a choice, as well: Will we support the moderates and reformers who are working for change across the Middle East — or will we yield the future to the terrorists and extremists? America has made its choice: We will stand with the moderates and reformers.
I thought that this was a pretty hopeful speech. While I think that the President’s insistence that Hamas engage in public pronouncements that would quickly undermine it with its supporters was not going to get very far, the fact that he was going to dispatch Condoleezza Rice last September to engage in a round of serious deal-making that would prop up Abbas seemed promising.
But that night — drinking at the bar of the Sheraton where the Clinton Global Initiative — I was hanging out with some of the real insiders in Palestinian-Israel-US affairs. The Palestinians were in the dumps and very depressed and distressed by the gap between President Bush’s speech and what they were being told privately by National Security Council Senior Staff member Elliot Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch.
Despite the “enlightened tone” of the Bush speech, the Palestinians were told that they had to break up the fragile effort to establish a “unity government” with Hamas.
While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sat alone for two years waiting to be taken seriously by the United States and Israel and got nowhere as America and Israel kept harping that “there was no partner” to negotiate with, Abbas had little choice but to try and build some form of unity government with Hamas — and was on the verge of getting Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to recognize key diplomatic instruments that “implied” recognition of Israel.
Abbas came so close to success that nearly everyone began to try and undermine him. Khaled Meshal began fighting with Haniyeh over where the real address of Hamas was — and ordered the Hamas incursion into Israel which resulted in the deaths of Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit.
But at the same time, the US instructed Abbas’s representatives that he had to derail the unity government. The promise then was that America and Israel would get serious about putting real benefits on the table for him that he could take to the Palestinian people.
None of this happened — well none of it except Abbas’s statement that the unity government would recognize Israel which promptly broke apart the unity effort last year.
Abbas got nothing for his troubles from Israel or the United States.
In recent months, we have seen simmering tectonic tension between the rival political and military wings of Hamas and Fatah and both America and Israel did nothing. Abbas was left pretty much to fend for himself, though there is word that the U.S. was funneling some money and guns in to help Fatah.
But we were absent in deal-making because of our self-imposed restriction in talking to Hamas.
This time, Abbas was left no choice but to make a deal on a unity government that would stick — and this time, the deal was with the real muscle of Hamas, Khaled Meshal.
Saudi Arabia, disturbed by the poor hand America is playing in Middle East affairs, brokered the kiss-and-make-up sessions between Abbas and Meshal and the unity government is coming together.
All of this has been in the news. We apparently talk to the Saudis frequently.
And yet — quite unbelievably — I have dependable sources inside the US government foreign policy bureaucracy who tell me that our decision makers were caught completely off-guard by the Saudi venture and its success.
Elliot Abrams is again winding up a spin and influence machine to try and send signals that America is not please with this move towards a unity government
It’s a replay of what happened last year.
One of the things that really stood out about the Clinton Global Initiative is how nearly every major speaker at the plenary meetings underscored the vital importance of moving to final status Israel-Palestine negotiations and addressing Palestinian grievances was key to any progress in the Middle East.
Here is a link to video clips of speeches by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Jordan’s King Abdullah who make this point strongly.
And yet, America dithers and replays the same game over and over. We pretend to engage in epic efforts to establish Palestine while all the efforts are ultimately designed to fail.
This has to stop. And that’s what the real message behind the Saudi deal-brokering between Hamas and Fatah is all about.
— Steve Clemons