Intellectual Whiplash on Israel

The same administration that’s defending Israel in refreshingly bold fashion at the United Nations is discussing Israeli-Palestinian peace this week with a Palestinian leader who promotes the murder and kidnapping of Israelis and who spent 15 years in prison for throwing a grenade at an Israeli Army truck.

The invitation to Jibril Rajoub, secretary of the Fatah Central Committee, to speak with U.S. officials is just the latest reason why, with regard to the administration, Israel-backers are suffering from a kind of intellectual whiplash – with positive developments followed by distressing ones, fueling an anxious uncertainty.

The embrace of Rajoub raises profound questions as to whether President Donald Trump has a coherent policy toward Israel or, as seems more likely, disjointed policies are emerging from competing power centers across the administration that view Israel and the U.S.-Israeli alliance in profoundly different ways.

Israel backers were enthused by Trump’s vow to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and his appointment of hardliner David Friedman as his ambassador, and they were thrilled by the efforts of Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to challenge anti-Israel orthodoxy at Turtle Bay. Her recent full-throated challenge to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel left them overwhelmed.

At the same time, Israel backers were dismayed by Trump’s failure to mention Jews on International Holocaust Remembrance Day as well as his focus on Israeli settlements as a key obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Now, they’re undoubtedly outraged that he’s legitimizing Rajoub as a potential partner for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“The U.S. government does not endorse every statement Mr. Rajoub has made, but he has long been involved in Middle East peace efforts, and has publicly supported a peaceful, non-violent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” a State Department spokesman told The Washington Free Beacon. “We continue to press Fatah officials, including Rajoub himself, to refrain from any statements or actions that could be viewed as inciting or legitimizing others’ use of violence.”

That, to put it bluntly, is absurd. Rajoub is no peace activist who just needs to tone down his rhetoric. He’s a hardcore Israel rejectionist who honors “martyrs,” promotes murder and kidnapping, and envisions a Palestine that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, erasing Israel in the process.

Of Palestinians seeking to kill Israelis during the latest wave of terror, he said in January of 2016, “We in the Fatah movement bless and encourage them. We consider them heroes and a crown on the head of every Palestinian.” Days later, he called Israelis “sons of bitches” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a liar and a scoundrel” and a “fascist” who “represents the new Nazism.”

Of Hamas’ policy of kidnapping Israelis who it can trade for Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, he said in early 2014, “If Hamas wants to kidnap soldiers, let them kidnap soldiers… It’s clear that kidnapping is the language [Israelis] understand… When they kidnapped [Israeli soldier Gilad] Shalit, we congratulated them.”

Rajoub is among the most powerful of Palestinian leaders, one who could succeed the aging Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority. A former senior national security official, he now exerts broad influence over younger generations of Palestinians as head of the Supreme Council for Sport and Youth Affairs, chairman of the Palestinian Football Association and chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee. His rejection of Israel and calls to violence remain persistent.

Last month, as head of the Supreme Council for Sport and Youth Affairs, Rajoub gave “female fighters” a plaque on which a map of “Palestine” covered all of Israel and the Palestinian territories. Days earlier, he marked International Women’s Day by declaring that Palestinian women take guidance in particular from two female “martyrs” – one who led a 1978 bus hijacking that killed 37 Israelis, including 12 children, and another who reportedly became the world’s first women hijacker in 1969 by commandeering TWA Flight 870 on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

A U.S. decision to change course and reject Rajoub as a potential peace partner would hardly represent a radical move, for two reasons.

First, Egypt denied him entry in late February when he landed in Cairo, hoping to attend an Arab League conference.

Second, some legal experts believe Rajoub should be denied entry under a U.S. law stating that any alien who “endorses or espouses terrorist activity or persuades others to endorse or espouse terrorist activity” is “ineligible for visas or admission.”

How an administration that unleashes Haley to defend Israel also talks peace with Rajoub defies explanation.

Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of, most recently, Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.

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