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9 January 2014

Shameless intervention in support of Netanyahu

By: George S. Hishmeh
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Several decades ago, when I began my career in journalism at the Daily Star in Beirut, Lebanon (and later became editor-in-chief), I was assigned to interview, at a late hour one evening at the capital’s international airport, a prominent member of the British Labour Party and the House of Commons who was at the start of a Mideast tour. Edith Summerskill, who was sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, had loudly criticised the position of the British government vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. So I hoped she would then respond to some of my questions, but she surprised me when she said she would not criticise the British government outside Britain; she would do that once she returned home. Her position stunned me, but I later appreciated her attitude.

So last week, I was shocked to learn from Haaretz, the Israeli daily, that Republican Senator John McCain had declared publicly during an unexpected visit to occupied Jerusalem that he shared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concerns about whether some parts of the so-called “framework” agreement that is being negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians by US Secretary of State John Kerry are enforceable, viable options that do not jeopardise Israel’s security.

I thought McCain would have done better had he followed in the footsteps of Summerskill and not embarrass a senior member of the US government. The US Secretary of State was in occupied Jerusalem at the same time on his tenth visit there to craft a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement and the following day, he was scheduled to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Alongside McCain was his frequent fellow traveller, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming — they had all travelled to Afghanistan before coming to occupied Jerusalem. For the record, the three senators did not bother — disappointingly — to visit Abbas, whose office was only a few miles away.

The Washington Post reproduced the following day a more detailed account from its correspondents in occupied Jerusalem. They reported that the Arizona senator said Netanyahu “has serious concerns about the plan as it has been presented to him,” particularly about the future security of Israel and the viability of a future independent Palestinian state. The paper added that McCain and Graham “suggested that they and other supporters of Israel in Congress will greet Kerry’s programme sceptically”.

McCain, according to the paper, further expressed concern whether some aspects of the agreement were “truly enforceable and viable options” that would not put Israel in jeopardy”. He also did not miss a chance to criticise the administration, arguing that the Barack Obama administration was allowing Syria to collapse and potentially endanger Israel through generous terms for nuclear rapprochement with Iran. In turn, Graham had this to say: “Here’s the one thing that I think dominates the thinking in Israel: That once you withdraw (from the West Bank), then the ability to go back is almost impossible.” He then cited the situation in Gaza, now controlled by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement. “Look at Gaza. What’s the chance of going back into Gaza militarily?”

But the coverage in Mondoweiss, a progressive Jewish website, was more hard-hitting against the two right-wing senators. Its headline read: ‘Netanyahu mouthpieces’ McCain and Graham crash Kerry’s Jerusalem party’, explaining that the “pro-Israel” senators showed up in occupied Jerusalem “apparently to remind” Kerry that “they do not feel he is sufficiently supportive of Netanyahu’s negotiating positions”.

Mondoweiss staffer Ira Gluntz wondered “whether this has happened before” and “[whether] the fact that we are talking about Israel make it OK?”

She noted that Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC television interviewed Democratic Representative Jane Harman, who is said to be well known for her “avid pro-Israel and pro-lobby position” and a former powerful chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee. Harman also “took a shot at the Senate delegation,” and went on to add “I think being the mouthpiece of the Prime Minister of Israel while our Secretary of State is there is not very smart. She continued, it “should not have happened”.

A former State Department senior official, R. Nicholas Burns, inexplicably declined to be interviewed on the subject, dismissing the visit as “politics as usual”.

If anything, the Arab leaders ought to immediately concentrate on starting a qualified public relations office in Washington, the sooner the better. Or else, they should not any longer wonder why they have been losing the ball in the US capital despite the fact that the tide is slowly turning against Israel’s sinister manoeuvring here.

* An Arab American columnist based in Washington. - Hishmehg@aol.com



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