by Julie Stahl, Jerusalem Bureau Chief

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has offended some Israelis with her call to free Palestinians from “the daily humiliation of the occupation.”

One Israeli radio broadcaster — trying to figure out where Rice was coming from — wondered if her apparent empathy for the Palestinian people had something to do with her own perspective as an African-American from the Deep South.

In a speech in Washington on Oct. 11, 2006, Rice said she knows that the “idea of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace must seem like a very distant dream,” but she suggested it could happen — given that history is full of “impossible” events that now seem “inevitable.”

“By all rights, the United States of America should never have come into being…[nor] survived our civil war. I should never have grown up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama to become the Secretary of State of the United States of America,” Rice said.

Rice was speaking at a dinner marking the third anniversary of the American Task Force on Palestine — a pro-Palestinian group that views the establishment of a Palestinian state as a key U.S. national security interest.

“I believe that there could be no greater legacy for America than to help to bring into being a Palestinian state for a people who have suffered too long, who have been humiliated too long, who have not reached their potential for too long, and who have so much to give to the international community and to all of us,” Rice said.

The Israeli government declined comment on the speech, but some Israelis were offended by her remarks and some analysts rebutted them.

“The idea of a Palestinian state is dead, and it doesn’t matter how much the international community [wants it to happen] — as long as the Palestinians’ house is not in order [they won’t have a state],” said Prof. Efraim Inbar from the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Inbar said that there are some in Washington who understand that the two-state solution is dead, but “the State Department will be the last to get it,” he said.

Inbar and other analysts say the State Department traditionally backs the Arab states over Israel, while the White House usually stands with Israel.

President Bush already realizes the idea of a two-state solution is dead, said Inbar, noting that Bush’s call for a Palestinian state is “conditional.” In a speech at the United Nations on Sept. 19, President Bush said he supports Palestinian statehood as long as Palestinian leaders “abandon terror, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and honor agreements that work for peace.”

Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli diplomat and former liaison to the U.S. Congress, said that
Rice’s focus on the Palestinian issue is typical of those who believe that the root of the problem in the Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict — which it is not, Ettinger said.

He indicated that radical leaders in the region, such as those in Iran and Syria, will not be tamed by resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

People forget that the terror attacks against the USS Cole, the twin bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and even the terror attacks on the U.S. on 9/11 all took place at a time when the U.S. was going easy on the Palestinians and making tough demands of Israel, he said.

Ettinger said Rice’s Wednesday night speech “is adrenaline to the veins of Israel’s enemies in the Middle East,” because it could give the impression that the U.S. is deserting Israel.

Such an impression undermines America’s own interests and is detrimental to America’s own battle against terrorism, he said, because it gives Iran the message that terrorism works.

Ettinger suggested it is Rice’s personal aspiration to establish a Palestinian state.

Even Americans living in Israel rejected Rice’s remarks.

“[Rice] is a brilliant woman but she is out of her league,” said Avi, an American living here.

“She is ignorant of the facts on the ground. I don’t know what facts she uses… The Palestinians…are committed to one thing — to the destruction of Israel, and ultimately jihad,” which would bring the world under the Muslim domination, said Avi, who didn’t want his last name used.

Many Israelis might have supported the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and — they believe — got a war in return, most Israelis don’t trust the Palestinians.

Ruthi, another American living here, said she did not believe that Rice’s comments represented President Bush’s view. Based on past patterns, when Rice says something like this, Bush will come along and encourage Israel to “stand strong in the face of terror” and then wait to see what happens, she said.

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