WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton defended his record on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and excoriated Hamas tactics in the Gaza Strip Friday afternoon, responding to a heckler at a campaign event for his wife who suggested US foreign policy had contributed to the devastation of the coastal enclave.
“I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state,” Clinton said after the critical attendee interrupted his speech. “I had a deal they turned down that would have given them all of Gaza, 96 to 97 percent of the West Bank, compensating land in Israel, you name it,” he said, referring to the peace offer former prime minister Ehud Barak extended to Yasser Arafat at the summit he brokered between the sides at Camp David in July 2000.
While he was discussing Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s policy stances on the Middle East and background dealing with the region as secretary of state, someone yelled out: “What about Gaza?”
“What about Gaza?” Clinton retorted, before he cited his wife’s role in arranging a 2012 ceasefire during a violent flare up in the Strip. “She and the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt stopped the shooting war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza,” he said.
The heckler did not stop there, however. “She said neutrality is not an option,” the man bellowed, prompting the former president to argue on behalf of his wife’s stated vow to make clear her support for the Jewish state’s security.
“Depends on whether you care what happens to the Palestinians as opposed to the Hamas government and the people with guided missiles,” Clinton said, to which the heckler injected, “They were human beings in Gaza.”
“Yes, they were,” Clinton shot back, as he signaled to those present to refrain from booing the attendee’s pushback. “And Hamas is really smart. When they decide to rocket Israel, they insinuate themselves in the hospitals, in the schools, in the highly populous areas, and they are smart.”
“They said they try to put the Israelis in a position of either not defending themselves or killing innocents” he added, as the audience applauded his rebuttle. “They’re good at it. They’re smart. They’ve been doing this a long time.”
Clinton went on to lament the outcome of the Camp David negotiations at the end of his presidency, and promote former secretary Clinton’s diplomatic efforts vis-a-vis the Israelis and Palestinians during President Barack Obama’s first term, between 2009 and 2013.
“Hillary got the only three face-to-face meetings between Mr. Netanyahu and the leader of the Palestinians, President (Mahmoud) Abbas, that anybody has gotten in the last eight years,” he said.
Clinton also added that he did not always agree with Israeli policy, and suggested regret over the Israeli government’s inability to make headway in the peace process when Salam Fayyad was prime minister of the Palestinian Authority between 2007 and 2013.
“Then when Mr. Fayyad was the prime minister of Palestinians in the West Bank, we had all the Muslim countries willing to normalize relations with Israel if they recognized a Palestinian state,” he said. “Did I agree with the Israeli policy? No.”
Before shifting away from the emotionally charged topic, Clinton told those at the rally in Ewing Township, New Jersey that progress between Israelis and Palestinian can’t be achieved unless Israelis are assured the US will defend the state against existential threats.
“There’s nobody who’s blameless in the Middle East, but we cannot really ever make a fundamental difference in the Middle East unless the Israelis think we care whether they live or die,” he said, according to Politico (video seen by The Times of Israel does not include this portion of the exchange). “If they do, we have a chance to keep pushing for peace.”
“That’s [secretary Clinton’s] position,” he added. “Not to agree with the Israeli government on everything, not to pretend that innocents don’t die, not to pretend that more Palestinian children don’t die than Israeli children. But that we can’t get anything done unless they believe, when the chips are down, if somebody comes for them we will not let them be wiped out and become part of the dustbin of history.”