Most Arab and world media expressed astonishment when the US secretary of state Hilary Clinton described the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s willingness to “restraint the policy of settlements” as “unprecedented”. Perhaps, many of the reporters did not have sufficient time to read the script of the press conference she held with Netanyahu in occupied Jerusalem, which deserves to be called “unprecedented”.
So, before I address the subject and language of the press conference, let me quote precisely what Mrs. Clinton said, by way of explaining and interpreting what Netanyahu said on the settlement issue: “What the prime minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements, which he has just described – no new starts, for example – is unprecedented in the context of the prior two negotiations”. Thus Mrs. Clinton volunteered to explain, praise and promote Netanyahu’s statement, forgetting that dismantling and freezing settlements were two main conditions in the Madrid frame of reference. The United Nations and the whole world, including her country, the United States, affirm that Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian and Syrian land is illegal.
Thus, what is striking is this serious u turn in her position as secretary of state. She has stressed many times, before TV cameras, that putting an end to settlement by Israel is an essential prerequisite for the resumption of negotiations. What is also remarkable is that the US secretary of state should take upon herself to interpret and promote the pronouncements of the prime minister of an entity which carries out genocide and siege against an unarmed population.
This was not the only example in this press conference when the secretary volunteered to interpret, confirm and promote Netanyahu’s pronouncements. It would seem strange, even if she were Netanyahu’s foreign secretary. Netanyahu started by ignoring the main demand put forth by president Obama, stopping the settlements, and jumped to negotiations. Nevertheless, the secretary responded by saying: “I appreciate the very positive words about the need to get back into a negotiation that would be in the best interests of Israel and Israel’s security,” adding for appearances sake, “as well as create a state for the Palestinian people”. She did not mention the best interests and the security of the Palestinian people, because, for her, interests and security are associated only with Israel.
In her second answer she moved from this point which established Israel’s security and interests as the ultimate goal of the negotiations without mentioning the rights or security of the Palestinian people, to say: “I want to see both sides begin negotiations as soon as possible”. This means that she wants the Palestinians to start the negotiations which will be in “the best interests of Israel and Israel’s security,” adding: “The important thing, as the prime minister just said, is to get into the negotiations. I gave the same message today when I met with President Abbas”.
So, the US secretary of state stands in a press conference with the prime minister of an aggressive entity which committed war crimes against the unarmed Palestinian people only to explain what he says to reporters, confirm it, and call on the Palestinians to commit themselves to it. That was not enough. Concluding her answer, she said: “I think the best way to determine the way forward is, as the prime minister said, get on the path”. I thought for a moment: what if the prime minister had nothing to say. What would Mrs Clinton say or confirm?
As soon as I turned the page to read the next question put by Mark Landler of The New York Times, my fears were confirmed. He asked her: “When you were here in March on the first visit, you issued a strong statement condemning the demolition of housing units in East Jerusalem. Yet, that demolition has continued unabated, and indeed, a few days ago, the mayor of the city of Jerusalem issued a new order for demolition. How would you characterize this policy today?” But since the prime minister did not answer this question, the secretary of state did not either. Instead, she said: “Well, let me say I have nothing to add to my statement in March. I continue to stand by what I said then”.
Secretary of State Clinton did not condemn the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli occupation troops, not even the confiscation of the tent which housed the Hanoun and al-Ghawi families. She did not condemn making thousands of Palestinians homeless and torturing them on roads and checkpoints. Maybe Mrs Clinton does not know what it means to have a racist and brutal occupation authority demolish a human being’s home, but at least she could imagine returning to her comfortable house, not to see it demolished, but to find that a thief has stolen her books, photos, history and favorite clothes, damaged the water and electrical systems so that the place is uninhabitable, and then stands on the pavement homeless, without shelter, memory, warmth or a place to make food.
If Mrs. Clinton could not even imagine that, she could have walked only a few steps to see what Netanyahu and the mayor of Jerusalem did to East Jerusalem and the people of Palestine. If she does not know any of that, she should know that demolishing houses is banned internationally under the Geneva conventions and that the human right to live in dignity on one’s land in one’s home is the most sacred after the right to live. After all this performance on the part of the secretary of state, Netanyahu stressed: “that Israel will accept the vision of two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state of Israel,” and that he agreed with US administration officials that they are “willing to engage in peace talks immediately without preconditions”.
Here, Netanyahu took the initiative and spoke for himself and on behalf of the United Sates after stressing that he discussed this with the United States and agreed with it about what he would say, relieving the Secretary of her responsibility of re-explaining, confirming and promoting what he says. After this, it is no longer important to know what the Secretary of State said to Arab ministers in Morocco, nor her retracting her statements or reinterpreting them. She said, before TV cameras, that the US position towards the Arab-Israeli conflict is the position of the Netanyahu government.
For Netanyahu, even the possibility of carrying arms to those trying to defend themselves against aggression is a war crime, while the German chancellor Angela Merkel arms Israel with nuclear submarines without facing such an accusation. Thanks to Western powers, Israel has become an arms exporting country and is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. Does this mean that Israeli aggressors can possess all the weapons they want and use them against civilians just because they are Jews? And the Palestinians, who are at the receiving end of this aggression, cannot have arms to defend themselves, only because they are Arabs? It is important to note that the ship story only aimed at diverting attention from Israeli crimes mentioned in the Goldstone report and to gain sympathy.
Western officials iinflict great damage on democracy when they justify the crimes of war, killing, torture and siege committed by the rulers of Israel against unarmed civilians. When will Arab rulers and their media understand the depth of Western racism hatred against them as represented by the blacklist of countries which voted against the Goldstone report in order to justify Israel’s crimes against civilian Arabs, only because they are Arabs, and unite their stances and their policies? And when will honorable and conscientious people around the world stand firmly and courageously against the horrible crimes committed against the Palestinian people so that their nations do not get tarnished by the shame of conniving with criminals committing genocide and ethnic cleansing?
BOUTHAINA SHAABAN is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has been the spokesperson for Syria and was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org