Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Bill Clinton: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

I was watching a video interview with Bill Clinton today from India where he's doing some charity work with children. At one point in the interview he was asked about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict ...

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NDTV: And it was a crisis you made a successful intervention in to de-escalate the crisis. There is another crisis in the world today that some would say needs the intervention of somebody like you. What's happening between Israel and the Palestinian people today, and I have to ask you and I know the world, not just India, is interested in what you have to say on this. 200 people dead on the Palestinian side in Gaza, almost 80% of them are children and women; one Israeli dead by comparison. Yet the statement we've seen from the White House, many people believe, continues to be partial to the Israeli perspective. Where do you come in on this? How can this crisis be resolved? Do you believe Israel has been fair?

Bill Clinton: Well, first of all Hamas was perfectly well aware of what would happen if they started raining rockets in Israel. They fired a thousand of them. And they have a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them. Now, I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu could and should make a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians. I believe if he did it, and he did it with either President Abbas or with his coalition, if in return for Hamas' renunciation of terror and recognition of Israel's right to exist, I believe 60% of the people of Israel would support it.

NDTV: So what's holding him up?

Bill Clinton: Well, his coalition wouldn't support it, so he'd have to go to a national unity government to pass it. But I think that you'd find that more than 60% Israelis support trying to defend themselves if they get 1000 rockets shot at them. They have a defence system against such missile attacks, the so-called Iron Dome and they haven't died in great numbers yet, although they certainly could have. It's a miracle to me that they fired 1000 rockets in there and more people weren't killed. So they know when Hamas attacks them that Hamas has set up a situation, which politically can't lose, because they can say well, if I attack them back, they always hide behind civilians, and I'll kill civilians; and if I don't, we'll look like fools letting somebody shoot a 1000 rockets at us and not responding. What this proves is that there ought to be serious peace talks, serious ones, and I think the whole existence of this national unity government between the Fatah government on the West Bank and Hamas is the direct result of the lack of progress.

NDTV: Do you blame Prime Minister Netanyahu at least partially for not moving fast enough on the possibility of peace?

Bill Clinton: I think they are partly responsible, but I also think, you know for example, when Hillary was Secretary of State, she helped secure an agreement, the only time Israel ever agreed to freeze settlements as a part of talks, they never had before. So they agreed to a nine-month freeze, and during the whole time the Palestinians didn't want to talk to them. And three weeks before the freeze expires, they say give us another nine months and we'll talk to you. That was a big mistake. So there are mistakes on both sides. But the main thing is they share this little piece of land and this big stretch of history. They know each other so well. They know how many children they have; they know how many grandchildren they have. They know what those grandchildren are doing. It's ridiculous. You talk to them in private you can swear they're all in a big family reunion and they're either going to share their future on positive terms, or share their future on negative terms, and that's the larger truth here and they have to figure out what it is. Over the long run it's not good for Israel to keep isolating itself from moral opinion because of the absence of a viable peace process. But in the short and medium term, Hamas can inflict terrible public relations damage on Israel by forcing it to kill Palestinian civilians to counter Hamas. But it's a crass strategy that takes all of our eyes off the real objective, which is a peace that gets Israel security and recognition, and a peace that gets the Palestinians their state ...

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