"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is completing the Obama administration’s humiliating retreat from the principles set forth in the president’s Cairo speech of less than five months ago," writes Steve Walt (who is emerging more and more as a progressive realist). Look at that press conference in Jerusalem on Saturday night. Mark Landler of the Times asked Clinton about the fact that that she’d condemned house demolitions in E. Jerusalem last March but was silent now.
Madame Secretary, when you were here in March on the first visit, you issued a strong statement condemning the demolition of housing units in East Jerusalem. Yet, that demolition has continued unabated, and indeed, a few days ago, the mayor of the city of Jerusalem issued a new order for demolition. How would you characterize this policy today…
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say I have nothing to add to my statement in March. I continue to stand by what I said then.
Then Joe Klein, a great, tough reporter, hints that American presidents have opposed settlements through four administrations. He gets Hillary to produce the word "unprecedented," to describe Netanyahu’s alleged progress. Note that Klein begins with a Jewish invocation, "Why is this night different from others…" A reference to the Passover seder’s script, which Hillary promptly echoes. She’s been to seders. (Jews are all over the American Establishment). Also note that Netanyahu addresses Klein as "Joe." Transcript after the break:
MODERATOR: Finally, Joe Klein from Time Magazine. Yes.
I’m tempted to ask why is this night different from all other nights –
Do you want us to burst into song? (Laughter.)
Yes. For 40 years, we’ve seen American secretaries of state and Israeli prime ministers in a similar situation. Despite the prime minister’s optimism, the talks are stalled. The prospect of talks is stalled. And while you’ve said yes without preconditions to talks, so many of your – you’ve said no to a settlement freeze. And I wonder whether that would be open to negotiation.
And Madame Secretary, is the Obama Administration still in favor of a total freeze? And if not, what’s plan b?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:
Joe, the specific question you asked about the settlements also has to be fully factual. The fact of the matter is that we – I said we would not build new settlements, not expropriate land for addition for the existing settlements, and that we were prepared to adopt a policy of restraint on the existing settlements, but also one that would still enable normal life for the residents who are living there.
Now, there has not been in the last 16 years – not 40 years but 16 years, since the beginning of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – any demand every put not on restraint, but on any limitation on settlement activity as a precondition for entering negotiations. This is a new thing. Now, it’s true that you can take a new thing and you can repeat it ad nauseum for a few weeks and a few months, and it becomes something that is obvious and has been there all the time. It’s not been there all the time.
It was there in the first Bush Administration, right?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:
No, there has not been a precondition for entering or continuing with the peace process between us and the Palestinians. There’s not been a demand coming from the Palestinians that said we will not negotiate with you unless you freeze all activity – something that is problematic in so many ways, judicial and in other ways. I won’t get into that. But this is a new demand. It’s a change of policy, the Palestinian policy. And it doesn’t do much for peace. It doesn’t work to advance negotiations. It actually – this uses a pretext, or at least does something as an obstacle that prevents the reestablishment of negotiations.
Now, mind you, the issue of settlements, the issue of territories, the issue of borders – these will be engaged in the negotiations, and they’ll have to be resolved for a peace agreement to be achieved. But you can’t resolve it in advance of the negotiations, and you certainly shouldn’t pile it on as a precondition.
Well, I would add just for context that what the prime minister is saying is historically accurate. There has never been a precondition. It’s always been an issue within the negotiations. What the prime minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements, which he has just described – no new starts, for example – is unprecedented in the context of the prior two negotiations. It’s also the fact that for 40 years, presidents of both parties have questioned the legitimacy of settlements.
But I think that where we are right now is to try to get into the negotiations. The prime minister will be able to present his government’s proposal about what they are doing regarding settlements, which I think when fully explained will be seen as being not only unprecedented but in response to many of the concerns that have been expressed. There are always demands made in any negotiation that are not going to be fully realized. I mean, negotiation, by its very definition, is a process of trying to meet the other’s needs while protecting your core interests. And on settlements, there’s never been a precondition, there’s never been such an offer from any Israeli government. And we hope that we’ll be able to move in to the negotiations where all the issues that President Obama mentioned in his speech at the United Nations will be on the table for the parties to begin to resolve.