Kerry’s Middle East negotiator mocked Arafat’s ‘big shit-eating grin’ in speech to pro-Israel group

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Norman Finkelstein has an excellent post up called The Wit and Wisdom of Martin Indyk, in which he quotes John Kerry’s new special envoy in his own words. Two statements that leap out are that Indyk believed that the Palestinians were making an unreasonable demand in saying that Jerusalem should be the capital of their state and his belief that the Israel Prime Minister was giving up too much too fast to the Palestinians in his initial offer during the Camp David peace process. No wonder the U.S. was said to be acting as “Israel’s lawyer.”

Yesterday, Max Blumenthal did a post questioning Indyk’s neutrality by quoting an Indyk speech to J Street in 2009 in which the former Australian said that he “made aliyah” to Washington after the 1973 war to save Israel.

Another excruciating moment in that speech came when Indyk mocked Yasser Arafat, the late chairman of the Palestinian Authority, for having a “shit-eating grin,” said that Arafat was “unfathomable,” and then mimicked his accent in an Orientalist manner. Max mentioned this yesterday.

Why Two States? Why Now? – American Perspective from J Street on Vimeo

Here is the full context of the Arafat lines, from Indyk (beginning at 14:00 in the video):

“It’s worthwhile taking a moment to think back fourteen years to a moment before his assassination when the peace process was in its high phase, its highest phase I would say. When Yitzhak Rabin came to Washington to sign the Oslo 2 Accords with Yasser Arafat, it was September of 1995. Hosni Mubarak who didn’t show up for the first signing ceremony in 1993 turned up then. As did King Hussein of Jordan, as did the Saudi Foreign Minister. And this was a recognition on the part of the Arab states that peace was really possible.

“Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat joined a reception that night… at the Corcoran Gallery with Arab Americans and American Jewish leaders… and they gave impromptu speeches, and Yasser Arafat, not required any more to read the mantra that his aides prepared for him, gave a very good speech for the need for peace with his Israeli cousins.

“And Rabin got up and said, ‘You know Mr. Chairman, we Jews are not very good at sports, but there is one sport in which we are Olympic champions, and that’s speechmaking. And it seems to me Mr. Chairman, that you are a little bit Jewish.’

“To which Arafat responded with that big shit-eating grin of his. He said, ‘Yes yes, yes yes. Rachel is my aunt.’ Now how he figured out that Rachel was his aunt, Rachel the matriarch of course was his aunt, is unfathomable, but it was just one of the many unfathomable things about Yasser Arafat.

“But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that night, Yitzhak Rabin for the first time spoke about the need for a Palestinian state. It may surprise you to know that he had not up till that time endorsed a Palestinian state. It’s not in the Oslo Accords. And yet he endorsed it and explained it in these memorable words. He said, “What we need is separation, your people and my people, we need separation, not out of hatred but out of respect.” And that was Yitzhak Rabin’s vision and that was his purpose in trying to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. Two states built out of respect and not out of hatred. And the tragedy, the immense tragedy for the Palestinians and for the Israelis is that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin turned that process of separation out of respect into a process of separation out of hatred. And our challenge and in particular the challenge of American diplomacy is to restore the respect. Not an easy task.”

Thanks to Scott Roth for the Finkelstein tip.

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