Rick Perry’s newbie mistake on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Question: Do you believe there should be a Palestinian state?
“I certainly have some concerns. The first step in any peaceful negotiation for a two-state solution for the Palestinians is to recognize the right of Israel’s existence. They have to denounce terrorism in both word and deed. And they have to sit down and negotiate with Israel directly. Anything short of that is a non-starter in my opinion.”
— Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), in an interview with Time magazine, Sept. 15, 2011
Handling the Israeli-Palestinian relationship is one of the most delicate and time-consuming tasks faced by a U.S. president, as demonstrated by this week’s drama concerning the Palestinian push for recognition as a state by the United Nations. In fact, one can argue that missteps early in President Obama’s tenure have helped lead the administration to the crisis it now faces today.
That’s why Perry’s comments to Time magazine struck us as interesting and potentially revealing. How deep is his understanding of this long-running conflict?
Perry’s statement had three parts: Palestinians must recognize Israel’s existence; they have to denounce terrorism; they have to negotiate with Israel directly. “Anything short of that is a non-starter in my opinion,” he declared.
Perry is stuck in a time warp. He’s describing a situation that existed in the 1980s, not really today. (Some people might argue about some of that, but we will explain below.)
As part of the 1993 Oslo accords, in an exchange of letters between then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Palestine Liberation Organization met all of these conditions nearly 20 years ago. The letters are posted on the Web site of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
“The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security,” the letter from Arafat said. “The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations. … Accordingly, the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.”
In 1996, by a vote of 504 to 54, the Palestinian National Council removed the sections in the Palestinian charter that had denied Israel’s right to exist.
Ironically, on the same day Perry’s remarks to Time were published, an opinion article appeared under Perry’s name in the Jerusalem Post. The article — surely written by a more knowledgeable campaign aide — made reference to the Oslo Accords and noted that “the Palestinian leadership has dealt directly with Israel since 1993, but has refused to do so since March 2010.”
One can certainly make an argument that the Palestinians have not always lived up to ending terrorism “by deed” (though the Palestinian security forces have been much improved in recent years.) One can also argue that Palestinians need to return to direct talks.
The PLO has long recognized Israel’s existence — though not the militant group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip, so maybe that’s what Perry meant. Israeli officials in recent years have also demanded Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” — which Palestinians have refused — but Perry did not make that distinction.
Just to be sure, we sent Perry’s remarks to three experts on Middle East diplomacy — an Israeli, a Palestinian and an American. All three said he appeared to be remarkably uninformed.
We contacted Perry’s spokesman for an explanation but as usual he did not respond. (The Perry campaign has become a fact-free zone, not responding to Fact Checker queries, ever since Perry received Four Pinocchios for his comments on climate change.)
The Pinocchio Test
To some extent, we regard Perry’s remarks as a newbie mistake. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has its own diplomatic code, and it takes time and effort to understand it. Still, his comments suggest he needs a few more briefings before he opines again on the subject.
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