In public, Condi was all smiles. But in private, she showed herself to be one tough cookie, full of demands on Israel. "She ticked us all off," said an insider. "The chutzpah of that woman. The way she totally ignored Sharon's critical problems at home. The way she twisted our arm and said we had to make all kinds of concessions and gestures to strengthen Abu Mazen."
That was Ha'aretz correspondent Joel Marcus, talking about Condoleeza Rice's July visit to the Sycamore Ranch. Other Israeli evaluations of Rice's recent approach to the "peace process" have reflected similar concerns. And yet, there's a sudden rush to exonerate Dr. Rice for various inappropriate remarks she reportedly made during her August 17 interview with the NY Times, beginning with the following "quote":
"Everyone empathizes with what the Israelis are facing," she said in an interview with The New York Times. But, she added, "It cannot be Gaza only."
A careful reading of the transcript of that interview does, in fact, reveal that the "quote" is completely misleading, and articles here, here and here, make a point of explaining just how and why. But even though those words were taken completely out of context, does the totality of the interview really contradict the general sentiment supposedly fabricated by the Times? I don't think so.
Here are a few direct quotes from the interview that have either been ignored or dismissed by those seeking to exculpate the Secretary of State.
QUESTION: How do you assure, given what's going on in Gaza right now, how do you assure that that is not the last step for a good while? I used to be based in Israel and I can see what's going to happen. The pictures of these settlers being dragged out is going to play on television for months. There's an election campaign coming up next year. Nothing's likely to happen before the new election.
So it's going to be at least a year before there can be any meaningful new movement, a year in which the Palestinians will grow ever more frustrated and perhaps the violence will ratchet up again, giving the new government an excuse not to do anything. That's a scenario. How do you avoid that scenario from occurring?
SECRETARY RICE: You're right, that's a scenario and our job is not to let that scenario materialize.
This is how the segment of the interview on Israel began. The Times reporter posed a question that, simply stated, asked: are you going to let Israel get away with using the angst of the pullout as an excuse not to make any more concessions? To which Rice responded that it was her job not to let that happen. What does that mean, if not "it cannot be Gaza only?"
Much has been made of the fact that the words "[i]t cannot be Gaza only" were part of a summary by Rice of other people's attitudes. But although that is, in fact, the correct context of her statement, fudged by the Times report, Rice doesn't contradict the sentiment. To the contrary.
The other thing is, just to close off this question, the question has been put repeatedly to the Israelis and to us that it cannot be Gaza only and everybody says no, it cannot be Gaza only. There is, after all, even a link to the West Bank and the four settlements that are going to be dismantled in the West Bank. Everybody, I believe, understands that what we're trying to do is to create momentum toward reenergizing the roadmap and through that momentum toward the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.
I'm sorry, but the gist of the above paragraph, summarized in a sound bite is, in fact, "it cannot be Gaza only." The question has been put repeatedly, says Rice, and everyone agrees.
Look. Of course the NY Times extracted the parts of Dr. Rice's remarks that furthered its own agenda. That's to be expected, even if it is a bit misleading. One simply can't expect a fair and balanced approach to this issue by that organization, but is that news?
And how about this other critical line from the original story:
According to the Times, Rice said that while the withdrawal would take several weeks, Israel must take further steps soon afterward, including loosening travel restrictions in the West Bank and withdrawing from more Palestinian cities.
According to CAMERA, there is "no passage in the interview that by any stretch" could be so interpreted. No? How about this one?
QUESTION: And so what should Israel do right now, after Gaza?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Israelis will have certain obligations as well about the continued freeing of Palestinian movement and conditions on the West Bank. That's one of the obligations. I think that we would hope that there is progress again on the Sharm agenda where the Israelis, if you remember, were handing over cities to the Palestinians.
Rice's response was not, in fact, to a question of what Israel should do "soon afterward," but rather, specifically, what Israel should do "right now, after Gaza." If anything, the Times' paraphrase played down her response. Focusing on weasel words like "I think that we would hope," which is the way Rice always speaks when she's being interviewed on a sensitive subject, doesn't change the import of the statement. And when Rice disagrees with the premise of a question, she has no trouble making that perfectly clear.
QUESTION: Right. Which [handing over cities] has regressed since then.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, no, I just think it's -- it's, frankly, people have been very focused on the disengagement and that's fine. Let them do this well. But my only point to Joel is that there is plenty to do after the disengagement that is already really prescribed in things that they've agreed to in the past, so let's get back on that track. Nobody wanted them to be so focused, I think -- at least we did not -- on what might come next, that they didn't nail down the details on how to get to Gaza disengagement.
Finally, Dr. Rice's remarks need to be considered in light of other statements she's made recently, as well as in the course of this interview. While she has repeatedly stressed the necessity of disarming terrorist groups, she continues to demonstrate obliviousness to what that might actually mean and to the refusal or inability of Mahmoud Abbas to take the smallest step in that direction. She continues to minimize the public posture of Hamas and the acquiescence of the PA in that posture, and to paint a glowing picture of palestinian dreams and aspirations for peace, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Consider these further observations reported by Joel Marcus in Ha'aretz (original link defunct):
This time, Rice's demands did not go through the Weissglas filtering system. There was no sugar to sweeten the pill or make it easier to swallow. There was no beating around the bush. Israel, she said, must supply the Palestinian Authority with weapons and ammunition. It must speed up the lines at checkpoints. It must be nice to Abu Mazen's buddies and allow them to operate. As if the missiles and the Qassam rockets fired at Israeli towns every day were our doing. As if the chairman of the PA deserves some kind of compensation.
One participant said Rice spoke like a teacher scolding her students. She demanded that Israel exercise restraint in responding to terror and let Abu Mazen fight Hamas, lest all of Gaza fall into its clutches. As if Israel were standing in his way. When she visited the Palestinians, she praised Abu Mazen's leadership abilities and his "war on terror." In Israel, she went on about how weak and frail he is, and urged us to strengthen him. As if Israel were Leader Remodeling Inc.
I would be delighted to see this view of Rice proved inaccurate. But that doesn't appear to be happening. So I'm perplexed by these attempts to rehabilitate her. Covering up this problem won't make it go away.
PostScript: In my zeal to jump on this matter (days late), I've made the critical error of neglecting to surf around and see if others have already done so. A lot of the above and yet more has already been pointed out at Mere Rhetoric and in (unfortunately, too few of) the comments at Little Green Footballs, among other places, as pointed out by Rick Richman himself.