November 16, 2009

Altruism vs. Egoism

Former president Bill Clinton is busy stumping for President Obama in Jerusalem.

Speaking at the Saban Forum, Clinton told his audience, “No American president can serve in good conscience and not be committed to the security of Israel... As long as you believe that American is with you at some core emotional level, we can have a conversation about anything.”

Though the region doesn’t need another American paean of Israeli love when tensions are sky high, Clinton’s remarks have a limited effect on the peace process. Most of what he said is already well known.

“You cannot get a divorce and move to another planet,” he reminded everyone. "If you want to be a democracy and a Jewish State you have to cut a deal. The trajectory of technology is not your friend… you need to get this done and you do have partners.”

And Israelis could use his particular message, “You should not think that President Obama is your enemy.” It would be more effective coming from Obama himself, but Clinton is hoping to exploit his personal charm and history in Israel.

His personal ego, though, might have overstepped its bounds.

“This is the first time that any Israeli government has said we will not issue any new permits and not have any new settlements,” he said, repeating his wife’s position, “and that should be enough to open the door and start talking.”

“Take where we are and the reformulation of the settlement issue and find a way [to move forward]," Clinton urged Palestinian officials.

No real fault can be levied against Clinton if he truly believes negotiations should be restarted under these conditions. Palestinians have already made clear that they believe otherwise, but Clinton is entitled to his opinion.

What he isn’t entitled to is providing political cover for his wife and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose visit to Jerusalem was widely panned by the Arab world and may have contributed to Mahmoud Abbas’s resignation from the PA.

Defending a spouse at the expense of Palestinians would be a gross misuse of power.

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