You remember that old saw: what if a tree fell in the forest and no one heard it? Well, Avigdor Lieberman came to Washington today for his first meeting with Sec. of State Clinton and it seems nobody knew or cared. Part of the reason his visit sunk into oblivion is that Iran appears to be teetering on the brink, alongside which most other foreign policy stories pale. Seriously, I can’t find a single substantive story on this meeting in any major news source.
Nevertheless, no visit by Avigdor Lieberman should go unnoticed here. You never know what outrageous statement he might make to add to his classic list of whoppers. He did seem to have quite a problem with the English language and at points was barely comprehensible, an issue he didn’t seem to face when he fawned over the Russians during his meeting with Putin last week (and spoke with him in their native Russian).
Clinton began the press conference with diplomatese for “we just had a helluva cat fight:”
Because our countries are close friends, we spoke honestly and openly about a range of issues.
Then, a reporter questioned Clinton and Lieberman whether there was any “wiggle room” in the U.S.’ ironclad commitment to a settlement freeze.
Lieberman’s reply was interesting. Instead of focusing immediately on the freeze, he introduced a new element into his argument:
…We really don’t have any intention to change the demographic balance in Judea and Samaria. But we think that, you know, as – in every place around the world, baby are born…,people get married, some pass away. And we cannot accept – we cannot accept this vision about absolutely completely freezing call for our settlements. I think that we must keep the natural growth…
This seems to be an attempt to argue to the Americans that maintaining “demographic balance” in the Territories performs the same function as a settlement freeze and renders the latter unnecessary. It’s an odd locution since settler population in the Territories has done nothing but grow since 1993–from 100,000 to nearly 500,000 today if you include cross-Green Line Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Lieberman also adopts the Eliot Abrams position, that because there were alleged unwritten agreements between Bush and Sharon concerning the permissibility of population growth in certain settlements, that these agreements are somehow imposed on the current administration:
…We had some understandings with the previous administration…
Clinton blocks and parries Lieberman in her reply. First she begins with the crystal clear, succinct statement:
We want a stop to settlements.
You can’t put it any more clearly than that. She continues:
I think that the whole issue that you’ve raised is one that we’ve expressed our opinion on. And in looking at the history of the Bush Administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the Administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility. Our former ambassador Dan Kurtzer has written an op-ed that appeared in the last few days that lays out our position on that.
Personally, I’m rather dumbfounded that Israel would attempt to enforce an unwritten understanding between two leaders on their successors. If I agree to rent you a house for $3,000 per month but refuse to sign a lease or rental agreement does that mean that my descendants must honor the agreement with you after I die? That’s what leases are for. If either Bush or Sharon refused to put this alleged agreement on paper it was either because they did not want it known publicly; or they didn’t want to impose it on their successors. Either way, it’s now gornisht no matter how much Lieberman and Netanyahu try to bring it back to life.
Israel’s Channel 2 correspondent asked a pointed question, to which Clinton responded masterfully:
…How do you envision any progress…on the Israeli-Palestinian track when the Israeli prime minister and the foreign minister have put so many conditions on the existing of a Palestinian state, conditions that are…all-out refused by their Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians? And when you hear that the Israeli – current Israeli Government refuses totally to talk about your demand of freezing the settlement activity, how do you envision a progress on that track?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think if one looks at Israeli history, there have been prime ministers going back to the beginning of Israelis’ statehood that have staked out positions which have changed over time. I personally have known such prime ministers from Labor, Likud and Kadima, who started in one place, but in the process of evaluating what was in the best interests of Israel, and that has to be the primary obligation of any leader of Israel: What is in the best interests of my people and the future of my state?
And these prime ministers have moved to positions that they never would have thought they could have advocated before they started looking hard and thinking hard about what the future should be. But that’s what negotiations are for.
I think you could argue that this was true of Sharon, Rabin and Begin. But I’m not sure you could argue that about any recent prime minister. Olmert seemed to change his views but never actually did anything concrete to reflect this. At any rate, it’s a nice thought on her part.
On a slightly different matter: “Don’t cry for me, Israel” sings Dennis Ross about his forthcoming job change. He’s not getting booted from the State Department as Haaretz seemed to imply in its story. Rather, he’s become Barack’s new best friend and is an indispensable partner in devising the White House’s Iran policy. He’s really gettting a promotion, don’t you know. How do we know? A little birdy and the Wall Street Journal told us so. That’s a disinterested source if ever I saw one.
This story sounds like it was written for WSJ by Ross’ spindoctors, and yet the reporter claims that Ross refused to be interviewed for the story. Hell, he didn’t need to be interviewed. If he didn’t write it himself he might as well have.
You’ll note that all the political sound bytes in this story align perfectly with the Aipac/pro-Israel line. The report even assigns a fall deadline to determining whether Iran is serious about dismantling its nuclear program. After which, I presume it would be perfectly OK for all hell to break loose. Interestingly, the reporter refuses to acknowledge that Pres. Obama himself in a very public press conference with Bibi Netanyahu specifically refused to accept such a categorical formulation. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if the WSJ could dictate U.S. foreign policy and dispense with the inconvenience of a president who balks at doing its bidding?
Nathan [Sydney, Australia] says
Hi richard, love your work and almost agree with the way you put things, but need to take you up on a little point
“If I agree to rent you a house for $3,000 per month but refuse to sign a lease or rental agreement does that mean that my descendants must honor the agreement with you after I die”
Couple of points
a) This may well be an equitable lease, and if a subsequent purchaser has notice of my equitable right to lease the property, then they will be bound by it. My contract to lease gives me an interest in the Land itself, so that the death of a contracting party does not in and of itself destroy the contract
b) more importantly you’re comparing a property law concept to one of international law, which is rhetorically convient, but legally invalid.
still i get your point, and I strongly support a settlement freeze…
Richard Silverstein says
Of course if someone has a written, signed lease it must be honored by someone who inherits my property. But I’m talking about a situation in which there is no written agreement at all. I think in that situation it would be difficult for the renter to refuse to reopen discussion on the amt. of rent they would pay.
But yes, I’m neither an expert in property or international law. I just meant this as a general analogy.
Arie Brand says
” … because there were alleged unwritten agreements between Bush and Sharon …”
What keeps baffling me is that they can, with a straight face, demand that the present administration sticks to these (alleged) informal agreements, whereas they have announced, at the same time, that Israel is not bound by the FORMAL agreements that its earlier governments have entered into. How is that for puerile egotism?
RE: “A little birdy and the Wall Street Journal told us so.”
MY COMMENT: The ‘little birdy’ is by far the more reliable source!