Friday, November 01, 2013

1-Nov-13: Still waiting for State

"We erred": The Guardian
A nice, small step for mankind to see the UK's Guardian newspaper acknowledge that the Palestinian Arab convicts freed this week from Israeli prisons where they were serving long terms for murder are not political prisoners. Kudos to CIFwatch and its indefatigable team.

There's another organization, larger than the Guardian newspaper and more powerful, that still may be stuck in a cognitive rut on the same question.

We're speaking of the US government, and its foreign policy arm, the State Department. We're frankly not sure what their updated position is about the matter, assuming they have one, because repeated efforts we have made over the past two and a half months to get clarification remain unanswered.

It started like this.

On August 13, 2013, we (the writers of this blog) were among the signatories to an open letter delivered to the office of John Kerry, Secretary of State. The full text of that letter is here on the Bereaved Families for Peace and Justice site. We received confirmation that it was received. And via an article in The Daily Beast some hours later, we learned that officials in the State Department were "reviewing it".

Our letter expresses dismay and puzzlement and the opposition of the bereaved individuals signing it to the decision to free unrepentant killers as well as to the role played by the US government. It invites Kerry to sit with us and talk.

Abbas clutching hands of murdering terrorists; zero sign
of remorse, regret or acknowledgment that they are killers
Later that same day, that first group of 26 Palestinian Arab killers was indeed freed. They were handed over to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas who celebrated their arrival in the same way other societies might welcome gold medal winners returning home from the Olympics. (There should be no mistake on this. All of them were convicted murderers. All of this week's second group of 26 were murders too. This is not what many of the most influential parts of the global news media reported. But that's a matter for another time.)

In Washington that same day, some time after our letter was delivered to Kerry and before the murdering Palestinian Arab terrorists were bused out of their prison, there was a media briefing at the State Department. 

Marie Harf, the State Department's Deputy Spokesperson, was in charge. In the course of the briefing, she was tackled by a reporter, Matt Lee of Associated Press. His questions were directed to (in our words) whether the US government took the same view as the Mahmoud Abbas regime did: that the men being released from Israeli prison that day were political prisoners and freedom fighters. In principle, a straightforward enough question, we think. But see how it was answered. This record of the full exchange is from the Washington Free Beacon website:
Q: Now, in terms of the—in terms of the prisoners—in terms of the prisoner release, this is—hasn’t actually happened yet. It’s not supposed to happen until tonight. But you do think it’s a good thing, yeah?
MS. HARF: Mmm hmm. Yes.
Q: Even though it’s a hypothetical—
MS. HARF: Same place I was—
Q: —because it hasn’t happened yet.
MS. HARF: Well, it’s something that they have approved, that’s in the — that’s in the pipeline.
Q: But that hasn’t happened yet.
MS. HARF: I don’t know where we are in the process, but yes, it’s something that’s been approved by the Israeli Cabinet.
Q: So you’re prepared to go ahead and say it’s hypothetical thing—
MS. HARF: Well, it’s not a hypothetical because it’s a step—
Q: It is a hypothetical because it hasn’t happened.
MS. HARF: —it’s been approved by the Israeli government.
Q: Is hasn’t happened yet.
MS. HARF: OK, but it’s a step that’s been approved.
Q: OK. I just want you to remember this conversation because we’re going to have it over—
MS. HARF: I remember all of our conversations, Matt.
Q: —over—we’re going to have it over a different issue maybe even later in this briefing—not—
MS. HARF: Understood.
Q: OK?
MS. HARF: It’s not a hypothetical policy decision. The policy decision has been made and it’s being implemented as we speak.
Q: All right. OK. All right, that’s fine. Do you have any thoughts or position on whether these people who are going to be released—this hypothetical release—are political prisoners or are they terrorists?
MS. HARF: I do not have a position on that.
Q: Do you object to the Palestinians referring to them as political prisoners?
MS. HARF: I don’t have a position on that. I’m happy to look into it and if I have something to share I can.
Q: Can you?
MS. HARF: I can.
Q: Can you find maybe—because this is big bone of contention. The—I mean, most of these people have been convicted of murder, of killing people. And the Israelis are very clear on the fact that they think that these people are terrorists, even though they’re releasing them. The Palestinians say that they are political prisoners and I—and they have instructed their ambassadors, all their representatives around the world to refer to them as freedom fighters, political prisoners. And I want to know, if you don’t have a position, on what they—
MS. HARF: On what we call them.
Q: —on what—if there isn’t anything that you call them, do you object to the Palestinians referring to them as freedom fighters?
MS. HARF: The answer is, I don’t know and I will endeavor to get an answer for you on that as well. I think I would—I would make the point that this clearly a difficult step for the Israeli government to take, but that it did show that they are putting some trust in the Palestinian Authority, investing in the PA’s success and that we do think it’s a positive step. But in terms of terminology, I will look into that and see what I can do.
A video of the Harf/Lee exchange is posted on YouTube

Ms Harf was also interviewed by Eli Lake of The Daily Beast the same day (we think) about how the US viewed the Israeli government's release of the terrorist convicts:
Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, told The Daily Beast, “We’ve received the letter today [the one we bloggers co-wrote], and we’re reviewing it.” She also said Kerry “respects the exclusive right of the Israeli government to make these decisions.” But Harf stressed that Israel alone made the decision to release the prisoners. “The decision to release these prisoners was taken by Israel only after the most serious review, at the highest levels of the Israeli government,” she said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu made a tough decision that he determined was in the best interests of the Israeli people.” [Daily Beast]
Now whether or not Israel acted "alone" and "in the best interests" of its people are serious issues, but they are not relevant to our point. Our point is that on a straightforward matter - does the US agree with the Palestinian Authority that those convicted killers are actually freedom fighters and political prisoners? - the Obama government's designated representative was unable to say

The State Department has remained (as far as we know) unable to say for the following two and a half months, up to and including the release of a second batch of such killers on Wednesday of this week. They too, like those freed in August, were received as heroes and as figures to be emulated. That is how the highest-ranking politicians in their government greeted them. 

Is this the way the US government also thinks? 

Whatever the private views of the editors at The Guardian, we were glad to see yesterday's correction on the public record. But let's be frank: extracting acknowledgments of error by journalists is a lot easier than getting those with their hands on the real levers of power to fix their mistakes. 

It's way past time for the government of the United States to state clearly and unequivocally that the 104 men - every last one of them - on the list that the Palestinian Authority demanded as an advance deposit on the payment due to them for sitting down with Israelis at a peace negotiation table are terrorists and justly-convicted murderers.

As with previous posts on this important matter, we will keep posting, tweeting and emailing about it to various officials in the US State Department and other contacts in the government. Any readers in touch with Marie Harf are invited to please pass along to her that it's not only bereaved Israelis like us who are wondering and waiting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to understand why Israel would release 104 Murderers. Perhaps NSA can shed some light on who lobbied for their release and why our State Department has difficulty calling them convicted murderers. Is this what President Obama refers to transparency in Government?