Ari Berman
The Nation
February 27, 2009 - 1:00am

In her 2000 race for the US Senate, Hillary Clinton was loudly denounced by uncritical right-wing supporters of Israel for a 1999 trip to Ramallah, where she kissed Palestinian First Lady Suha Arafat and listened as Arafat denounced Israel (in Arabic). Pictures of "the kiss" were repeatedly slapped across the cover of the New York Post, in TV ads and invoked by the campaigns of Rudy Giuliani and Rick Lazio. The flap almost derailed Clinton's campaign.

Clinton learned her lesson and for nearly a decade afterward offered only boilerplate praise of Israel, which made her a favorite of the right-leaning Israel Lobby.

Now, as Secretary of State, she's forced to confront another reality: the difficulty of forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Anything she says that might be perceived as even slightly critical of Israel will land her in hot water with right-wingers back home. Just ask Chas Freeman, who Barack Obama appointed to head the National Intelligence Council despite fierce opposition from war-hungry neoconservatives.

In advance of her trip to the Holy Land next week, Clinton advisers sent word that the US was unhappy with Israel for blocking humanitarian aid to Gaza, which was further devastated by Israel's recent military incursion.

According to Haaretz:

"Israel is not making enough effort to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza," senior US officials told Israeli counterparts last week, and reiterated Washington's view by saying that "the US expects Israel to meet its commitments on this matter."

It didn't take long for so-called "pro-Israel" leaders back home to howl with protest. "I am very surprised, frankly, at this statement from the United States government and from the secretary of state," said New York Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman. "I liked her a lot more as a senator from New York," added Brooklyn assemblyman Dov Hikind.

Since when did starving the people of Gaza become good for Israel? Before we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we have to be able to have a rational conversation about it. The Zuckermans and Hikinds of the world make that nearly impossible. They're doing neither Israel nor the United States any favors.

Politically, Clinton knows that the only safe words to say in US politics are "I support Israel," no if ands or buts. Israel is the victim and the righteous warrior. Palestinians are terrorists who can't be trusted to negotiate. Hamas must be eliminated. Iran must be obliterated. End of story.

Unfortunately, such insane demagoguery doesn't come in very handy when it comes to the actual practice of diplomacy. So Clinton, rightly, is trying to make sure that Israel doesn't turn Gaza into an even bleaker post-apocaptyic wasteland. Kudos to her for trying and lets hope there's more tough love to come.


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