The way Clinton blames Hamas for all the violence shows what’s wrong with the U.S. perspective on the Middle East.
November 17 2023, 10:44 a.m. (TheIntercept.com)
ON TUESDAY, FORMER Secretary of State Hillary Clinton published an opinion piece in The Atlantic headlined “Hamas Must Go.” Why does she believe this? The subhead explains: “The terror group has proved again and again that it will sabotage any efforts to forge a lasting peace.”
The article is the latest chapter of Clinton’s press tour following the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks, including an appearance on the daytime talk show “The View.” Both in The Atlantic and on “The View,” Clinton explained why a ceasefire in Israel’s current war on Gaza would be a terrible mistake.
Everything Clinton has said is part of a peculiar genre of self-defeating “liberal” propaganda on the topic of Israel–Palestine. Clinton is rational and informed and understands, as she writes in The Atlantic, that “the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a secure, democratic, Jewish state is by achieving two states for two peoples. … There is no other choice.”
She cannot acknowledge, however, the historical events that have led to the present situation, which clearly show that the primary obstacle to a two-state solution is not any Palestinian faction: It’s the government of Israel.
She repeatedly claims that it’s been Palestinians who have stood in the way of any kind of permanent peace. Of course, this makes her call for a two-state solution appear like the worst kind of liberal naïveté — and is therefore a huge gift to the U.S. and Israeli right. After all, if even the extremely liberal Hillary Clinton admits that Palestinians don’t want peace, why should Israel even try?
If even the extremely liberal Hillary Clinton admits that Palestinians don’t want peace, why should Israel even try?
The degree to which Clinton’s Atlantic essay is riddled with historical inaccuracies is startling, especially given that she brags about her “decades of experience in the region.” The article begins in November 2012 with a tale of her knocking on the door of President Barack Obama’s hotel room early in the morning during a visit to Cambodia. “Then, like now,” Clinton writes, “the extreme Islamist terror group Hamas had sparked a crisis by indiscriminately attacking Israeli civilians.” She and Obama debated whether she should fly to the Middle East and try to broker a ceasefire in what Israel had dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense.
This was a difficult decision, she writes, because she and Obama “knew Hamas had a history of breaking agreements and could not be trusted.” Nevertheless, they decided she should go. She succeeded in negotiating a halt to the conflict, after about 100 Palestinian and two Israeli civilians died, along with military personnel on both sides.
Clinton says she was left uneasy. “I worried that all we’d really managed to do was put a lid on a simmering cauldron that would likely boil over again in the future,” she writes. “Unfortunately, that fear proved correct. In 2014, Hamas violated the cease-fire and started another war.”
This is close to the opposite of reality.
Sparking a Conflict
Israel had, in collaboration with Egypt, imposed a brutal blockade on Gaza since 2007. Blockades are arguably acts of war, and one place you can find it argued is on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “The blockade is by definition an act of war, imposed and enforced through violence. Never in history have blockade and peace existed side by side.”
This is an excerpt from a June 1967 speech by Abba Eban, then the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, right after the end of the Six-Day War. Eban was explaining why Israel had not started the war, despite the fact that it had struck Egypt first. Because Egypt had imposed a blockade on the Straits of Tiran the month before, Eban said, it was actually Egypt who was responsible for the war.
In the years leading up to Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas leaders said over and over that they were willing, at a minimum, to accept a long-term truce with Israel. Even the U.S. Institute for Peace, a think tank funded by federal government, acknowledged that Hamas had “sent repeated signals that it may be ready to begin a process of coexisting with Israel.”
This did not interest the Israeli government. On November 14, 2012, Israel assassinated Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’s military wing.
Gershon Baskin, an Israeli peace activist, had been in communication with Jabari long before the assassination. According to Baskin, Jabari had come to believe that it was in the best interest of Palestinians for Hamas to negotiate a long-term truce. Jabari, Baskin asserted, had on several occasions acted to prevent Hamas from firing rockets at Israel. In Baskin’s telling, just before the assassination, he gave Jabari a draft proposal for such a truce to review and approve. The draft was agreed to by Baskin and Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, and Baskin also said he had previously shown it to Ehud Barak, then the Israeli minister of defense.
After Israel assassinated Jabari, Reuven Pedatzur, a military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reported:
Our decision makers, including the defense minister and perhaps also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, knew about Jabari’s role in advancing a permanent cease-fire agreement. … Thus the decision to kill Jabari shows that our decision makers decided a cease-fire would be undesirable for Israel at this time, and that attacking Hamas would be preferable.
Baskin himself told the story in a column for the New York Times. “Israel has used targeted killings, ground invasions, drones, F-16s, economic siege and political boycott,” he wrote. “The only thing it has not tried and tested is reaching an agreement (through third parties) for a long-term mutual cease-fire.”
While there had been tit-for-tat attacks, Israel’s assassination is widely seen as the proximate cause of the eight-day flare-up of violence in November 2012 — the one Clinton left Cambodia to deal with.
Breaking the Ceasefires
Clinton’s claim that “Hamas violated the cease-fire and started another war” in June 2014 is also highly misleading.
The period from November 2012 to June 2014 was generally presented in U.S. media as one of quiet in the Israel–Palestine conflict, because in this time only seven Israelis — three soldiers and four civilians, of which three were West Bank settlers — were killed by Palestinians. During the same year-and-a-half period, over 60 Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza were killed by Israelis.
Among those killed were two Palestinian teenagers who were shot by Israeli forces on May 15, 2014, during a West Bank commemoration of the Nakba, the mass dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 at the founding of Israel. Then, in June, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by Palestinians from a West Bank settlement.
To this day, it’s unclear what connection, if any, Hamas had to the abduction. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed, “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.” An Israeli intelligence officer, though, anonymously said that there was no evidence for this, and “we have come to conclude that these men were acting on their own.”
Hamas proposed a 10-year ceasefire. Israel studiously ignored this proposal and went on to kill over 2,000 people in Gaza.
In response to the kidnapping, Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper, during which it arrested hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank — most of whom were members of Hamas — and tortured many of them. It also killed seven civilians. It was all for naught: The teenagers were found dead several weeks after they were taken.
Escalations followed — Hamas fired rockets, doing little damage — until Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, another bombing and invasion of Gaza, on July 8.
Several days later, Hamas proposed a 10-year ceasefire, on the condition that Israel would release the Palestinian prisoners, and the blockades of Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea and along its border with Egypt would be lifted. Israel studiously ignored this proposal and went on to kill over 2,000 people in Gaza, about two-thirds of whom were civilians. Seventy-two Israelis died during the operation, nearly all of them soldiers.
Clinton’s appearance on “The View” last week was propagandistic in all the same ways, with an added wrinkle of nonsense regarding President Bill Clinton’s involvement in the conflict. According to Hillary Clinton, “My husband with the Israeli government at the time in 2000 offered a Palestinian state to the Palestinians at that time run by [then head of the Palestinian Authority Yasser] Arafat. … Arafat turned that down.” She added, “There would have been a Palestinian state now for 23 years if he had not walked away from it.”
In reality, it was Israel that walked away from what was possibly the best chance there will ever be for a resolution to the conflict.
Bill Clinton did propose what he called parameters for a two-state solution in December 2000. In early January 2001, with less than a month to go in his presidency, Clinton announced, “Both Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat have now accepted these parameters as the basis for further efforts. Both have expressed some reservations.”
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians continued later that month in Taba, Egypt. But they were terminated by Barak on January 27, ahead of upcoming elections in Israel. The negotiators issued a joint statement that the two sides had “never been closer to reaching an agreement and it is thus our shared belief that the remaining gaps could be bridged with the resumption of negotiations.”
Barak, however, was defeated by Ariel Sharon, who opposed a two-state solution and did not restart the talks. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a statement that the Clinton parameters “are not binding on the new government to be formed in Israel.”
Bill Clinton has since lied over and over again about what happened, contradicting his own words at the time, claiming that Arafat was the one who rejected a settlement.
There’s much more detail to this story, of course, but together Hillary and Bill Clinton have done an extraordinary amount of damage to any hope for peace in Israel and Palestine. If they really care about the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, they should both correct their farragoes of deceit — or, at the very least, just stop talking.