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U.S. official’s statement justifying violence against Israel is no aberration

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, 2001. Credit: Robert D. Ward via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, 2001. Credit: Robert D. Ward via Wikimedia Commons.

The recent widely publicized statement by a senior U.S. official that in effect justified Palestinian violence against Israel is no aberration. Rather, it is part of a pattern going back to the days of the Clinton administration.

On May 2, an unnamed “senior U.S. official” told Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Ahronoth, “The Palestinians are tired of the status quo. They will get their state in the end—whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.”

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported May 5 that the Israeli government believes Martin Indyk, the top American envoy to the collapsed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is the anonymous official. Indyk has not issued any denial.

Were the official’s ugly remarks just an isolated slip of the tongue, it would be one thing. But they are darkly reminiscent of similar statements made by Indyk and other Mideast policymakers during the Clinton administration.

For example, on June 22, 1997, when Indyk was the U.S. ambassador in Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported that “a senior U.S. official” called recent Arab violence against Jews in Hebron “a plausible safety valve” which “lets the Palestinians vent their anger.”

On August 26 of that year, the Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva reported that unnamed advisers to President Bill Clinton had recommended to him “that he allow what [they called] the ‘explosive’ situation between Israel and the Palestinians to deteriorate to a violent clash [because] this will convince the sides of the need to renew negotiations.”

This theme continued to crop up during President Clinton’s second term. On January 14, 1999, the Jerusalem Post quoted “a senior U.S. administration official” as saying that there may be “riots in the territories” if Israel did not make more concessions, and that “it may be unreasonable to expect that Palestinians at the grassroots level will remain quiet.”

Some senior U.S. officials did not even bother to hide behind the mask of anonymity. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, for example, publicly justified Palestinian violence in a speech that he gave at Tel Aviv University on May 21, 2000. He said Palestinian violence against Israel was not just a curse, but also “a blessing,” because “the tragedy that awaits in the event of inaction also constitutes the greatest incentive for immediate action” in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Two months later, Berger reiterated his point in a July 31 conference call with member groups of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, saying, “Either there will be an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or there will be a conflict… If there is no agreement, we may be sadder and bloodier, but then maybe they’ll be prepared to make a deal.”

The George W. Bush years saw a welcome departure from such rhetoric, and such thinking, with Washington insisting that Israel’s “partners for peace” abandon and suppress terrorism. A presidency devoted to countering the 9/11 terror attacks would refrain from any justification of violence against Israel. And so things had remained, even during the often-tense relations between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There was reason to believe that the dark days of justifying Palestinian violence were over. But then President Obama brought Indyk back into the inner circle of Middle East policy-making, and it seems that Indyk has brought back with him the mindset of that earlier era.

According to that mindset, if Israel fails to make sufficient concessions, the Palestinians are justified in responding with violence. Thus the violence is Israel’s fault—and it may even be productive!

Of course, U.S. officials must never give legitimacy to violence against Israel or Jews. Nor should American Jews tolerate this approach as a method of intimidating Israel into dangerous concessions.

As of this writing, there are reports that Indyk is contemplating resigning, in the face of the failure of the negotiations. If so, good riddance.

Moshe Phillips is president of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia Chapter; Benyamin Korn, the former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, is chairman of RZA-Philadelphia (

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