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That Old-Time Clintonian ‘Engagement’


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Media coverage of the fighting between Israel and Hizbullah has gone largely as expected – CNN, The New York Times and other liberal outlets see events largely through a prism of Lebanese civilian casualties, while Fox News, the New York Sun and other conservative organs present a broader picture of Hizbullah provocations and the suffering of civilians on both sides.

The Monitor will single out some journalists and pundits for comment in next week’s column. This week, with much of the liberal media – and just about every elected Democrat not from New York – engaged in full-throated pleading for a return to the “engagement” and endless negotiations that marked the Clinton years, it seemed like a good time to reflect for a moment or two on the Golden Age of Clintonian Moral Equivalence in U.S. foreign policy.

“If you think that what’s going on in the Middle East today would be going on if the Democrats were in control,” said Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, “it wouldn’t….We would have had the moral authority that Bill Clinton had when he brought together…the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

Leaving aside the question of how anyone in his right mind (well, we are talking about Howard Dean, after all) could include the words “moral authority” and “Bill Clinton” in the same sentence, what, exactly, did Clinton accomplish with his much vaunted bringing together of Israelis and Palestinians? Was there peace – or anything remotely approaching it – when Clinton left office?

The “engagement” that liberals and media types remember with such fondness and castigate President Bush for turning his back on did nothing but embolden Yasir Arafat and Hamas and Hizbullah as they witnessed Israel’s only real ally elevate process ahead of policy.

It was “engagement” that led U.S. officials to ignore Arafat’s repeated assurances to his followers that Oslo was but a ruse to weaken Israel; and President Clinton to interfere on behalf of the Labor party in not one, but two Israeli elections, dispatching his political strategists to help Shimon Peres in 1996 and Ehud Barak in 1999; and the White House to extend to Arafat treatment usually accorded heads of legitimate countries.

Does anyone really wish to bring back the bad old days of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright desperately chasing after a recalcitrant Arafat in a Paris chateau? Remember the embarrassing incident? It was the first week of October 2000, a few days after the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, and Albright, Barak and Arafat were close to hammering out an agreement to end the fighting. Arafat suddenly stormed out of the meeting and Albright actually ran after him, imploring him to please come back while shouting out for someone, anyone, to shut the gates before her elusive prey could get away.

Do we really need to relive Bill Clinton’s shameful 1998 trip to Gaza? It was there, as Yossef Bodansky writes in The High Cost of Peace: How Washington’s Middle East Policy Left America Vulnerable to Terrorism, that “Clinton’s true sense of the dynamics of the Middle East was revealed when he publicly equated Palestinian terrorists and Israeli victims of terrorism.”

For those with short memories, here’s what the “fully engaged” Clinton said to a group of Palestinian VIPs:

“I’ve had two profoundly emotional experiences in the last less than 24 hours. I was with Chairman Arafat, and four little children came to see me whose fathers are in Israeli prisons. Last night, I met some little children whose fathers had been killed in conflict with Palestinians, at the dinner that Prime Minister Netanyahu held for me. Those children brought tears to my eyes. We have to find a way for both sets of children to get their lives back and to go forward….If I had met them in reverse order I would not have known which ones were Israeli and which Palestinian. If they had all been lined up in a row and I had seen their tears, I could not tell whose father was dead and whose father was in prison, or what the story of their lives were, making up the grief that they bore.”

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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