Speaking on a panel at the Hudson Institute today, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman defended the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, specifically its support for human rights and democracy. “Secretary Clinton has met with civil society and democracy activists on almost all of her trips,” Feltman said. “It is the foreign policy of the Obama administration to support, promote and defend democracy and civil participation” in the region and around the world.
Asked to explain how support for human rights was consistent with continuing U.S. support for authoritarian governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Feltman admitted “It’s a tough question,” but it was the administration view that “All governments should have the respect of their people.” Feltman assured the audience that the administration was “trying to speak respectfully and, where appropriate, behind closed doors toward [the goal of] building participatory democracy.”
Echoing a line in President Obama’s Cairo speech that many believed was a nod toward Islamist parties like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Feltman said that “people who are willing to use democratic means should have opportunity to participate” in elections. Ensuring fairness in upcoming Egyptian elections is, Feltman said, “a subject of much discussion between us and the Egyptians right now.”
Feltman also defended the administration’s approach to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, reminding the audience that when the administration took office, “the Israelis and Palestinians had just come out of a war” in Gaza. Feltman knocked back a criticism from fellow panelist Elliot Abrams, who scoffed at the Obama administration’s call for a settlement freeze as something “no Israeli government could accept.” Feltman responded that “the United States has had the same policy on settlements for a very, very long time,” and reminded Abrams that the “call for a settlement freeze was consistent with the Quartet Road Map” promulgated by the Bush administration and agreed to by both the Israeli and Palestinian governments.
“Our goal is to achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East,” Feltman said. “The two-state solution is key,” and “waiting on negotiations doesn’t serve anyone but extremists.”
Another story today underscores that argument. In the wake of its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, the Iranian regime is trying to recoup some of its lost resistance credibility by returning to the Israel-Palestine well:
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani on Tuesday criticized the West over its supports for Israel against Palestinians, the state-run satellite Press TV reported.
Larijani attacked the Western countries for giving Israel all the military support it needed to launch its deadly operation on the impoverished Palestinian Gaza Strip, the report said.
“Despite suffering heavy damages, Palestinians came out as the true winner of Israel’s war on Gaza,” Larijani was quoted as saying at a conference on “Gaza, Symbol of Resistance” in Tehran.
The three-week unprecedented Israeli military offensive on Gaza, which ended in January last year, left about 1,400 Palestinians killed and 5,500 others wounded.
The Iranian speaker also said that the conduct of the Israeli authorities and the West’s lack of regard for the basic rights of Palestinians have left them with no choice but to resist, according to Press TV.
Iran has expressed its concerns over the continuing economic blockade on the Gaza Strip and has never hesitated to pronounce its all-out support for Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation of their lands.
No one claims that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict will make all the problems of the Middle East melt away, but it would deny extremists of all stripes one of their favorite, and most effective, propaganda tools.