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Was Clinton's First Middle East Foray Good for Israel?
In her first Middle East visit as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton called the establishment of a Palestinian state "inescapable," and labeled as "unhelpful" Israel's planned demolition of illegal Arab Palestinian construction, closing of border crossings to a terrorist entity and expanding construction in land acquired through a defensive war. In what was termed a "new path," the Clinton team sent diplomats to renew a courtship with the tyrannical Bashar Assad's Syria, and suggested that there should be a "unity" Palestinian government, which means a merger of the terrorist Hamas regime with the more moderate terrorists of Fatah.
But words like inescapable and unhelpful, when applied to dangerous ideas and realistic responses to terrorism, are themselves unhelpful.
Is now really the time to underscore to the Palestinians that their leadership has achieved what at least some see as their ultimate goal -- statehood -- without the renunciation of terror? Is the stewardship of Fatah under Mahmoud Abbas -- or, even more grotesquely, Ismail Haniya and the leadership of Hamas -- deserving of approbation rather than opprobrium?
What should be inescapably obvious is that the Abbas-Haniya hydra will continue on the path of terrorism. Yet the single attainable goal that Clinton voiced was that there will be a Palestinian state. So much for carrots and sticks; Clinton already gave away the farm.
In the extreme sport of throwing money at the Palestinians, the current U.S. administration is going for the gold. At the Sharm el-Sheik global aid-apalooza on March 2, Clinton pledged $900 million to rebuild the Hamas infrastructure in Gaza and boost the Fatah economy.
The official party line about the $900 million was that the "money was not being channeled through Hamas," according to State Department spokesman Robert Wood. But a senior State Department official acknowledged that "everyone" knows that "having a unified authority for the Palestinians" would be "a positive step toward statehood."
Israel's planned expansion of residential housing in disputed sections of Israel was called "unhelpful" to the peace process, while Israel's plans to demolish Arab buildings illegally constructed in disputed sections of Jerusalem earned a tongue-lashing from Clinton.
Clinton also denounced Israel's restricted passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel was faulted for closures of its borders to the terrorist regime next door. The Hamas regime has a more liberal border policy -- that of allowing any Palestinian to export mortars and increasingly sophisticated rockets over its border and into Israel. The U.S. administration chastised Hamas for failing to curb the enthusiastic export from Gaza, but it is Israel's border policy that is being hammered in the diplomatic arena.
The plan to revive a "Syria track" of diplomacy is au currant. Clinton sent deputies to begin the process of re-establishing relations with Syria. Following their meetings, the two U.S. envoys said that "Syria can play an important and constructive role in the region."
Yes, they are talking about the same Syria in which tests by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency found, despite years of Syrian protest to the contrary, traces of enriched uranium to be evidence of covert nuclear activity.
Yes, the same Syria that America designated a foreign terrorist organization for hosting and supporting the regimes of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Yes, the same Syria that attended Iran's alternative to the Gaza aid-apalooza that opened with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's statement that "resistance" against Israel, a "cancerous tumor," is the only way to save Palestinians.
Most of Clinton's efforts merely repeat the fruitless steps taken by the Bush administration, except for the outreach to Syria, with which President Bush refused to engage. This courtship is intended to woo Syria away from its current puppeteer, the ultimate evil empire, Iran.
But even this effort is a retread of another Republican: Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. For decades, his snarled response to queries about his playing footsy (and squash) with terrorist-abetting Syria was this mantra: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
Yet some of those enemies you are holding close may just be drawing a bull's-eye on your back.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus writes on the Middle East for local, national and international publications.