Published by “The Australian” on March 20, 2010: “Hillary Clinton takes up the Running on Middle East Peace.”
by John Lyons | Middle East Correspondent.
It would be interesting to eavesdrop on conversations in the Clinton household about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, emerged this week as the Washington official taking the running on the battle with Israel over settlements. She held a 43-minute telephone call in which, according to Israeli media, Netanyahu barely got a word in.
Playing tough with the Prime Minister is family policy. When Netanyahu was PM the first time, he went to Washington to meet then president Bill Clinton.
Clinton adviser Dennis Ross wrote that it was a “nearly insufferable” performance by Netanyahu and that when he left, Clinton said: “He thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires.”
But Ross also tells how, when Palestinian negotiators wanted a change, he told Netanyahu if he agreed, a deal could be struck.
“For real, Dennis?” Netanyahu asked.
“For real,” Ross replied.
Netanyahu called Hillary Clinton yesterday and reportedly made some concessions. The Prime Minister is in an extraordinary situation. He has a US administration urging him to wind back settlement growth in the West Bank while key figures in his coalition are absolutely committed to settlement expansion.
Part of the dilemma was illustrated yesterday when militants in Gaza fired a rocket into Israel, killing a Thai worker. That highlighted Israel’s position that it will not retreat from the West Bank.
The experience of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza is the reason many Israelis resist any withdrawal from the West Bank. It was then prime minister Ariel Sharon who decided on the withdrawal.
As a right-winger, he was able to fend off the heat from the Right. But what followed – years of rockets from Hamas in Gaza – means Israelis need to be reassured that the same will not happen in the West Bank.
The row with the US is bringing out all sorts of tensions.
Netanyahu’s brother-in-law, Hagi Ben-Artzi, branded Barack Obama anti-Semitic.
He told Army Radio:
“For 20 years, he sat with the preacher Jeremiah Wright, who is anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli. When an anti-Semitic president comes to power in America, it is our test and we must say, ‘We will not give up’.”
Meanwhile, Haaretz reported that a right-wing website had headshots, phone numbers, addresses and pictures of the homes of organisers of protests against the eviction of Palestinians. The entries are accompanied by descriptions such as “anti-Semites”, “scum” and “dogs” and commentators call for them to be beheaded, bombed or kneecapped.
The newspaper reported that the Justice Department said investigations involving freedom of expression are pursued only in the most extreme cases.
In the Middle East, the definition of “extreme” is not the same as in many parts of the world.