Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gingrich and Arafat - Anatomy of a Smear

Sultan Knish

Two photos are being circulated of Gingrich shaking hands with Arafat, one from 1993 and one from 1998, with the context stripped away, to imply that Newt was formerly friendly with Arafat and then "changed" his position.

The 1998 photo is the easiest to address because it is the most amply documented. That photo was taken during Gingrich's trip to Israel and I will let the news stories from the time speak for themselves.

After days of angering Palestinians by publicly siding with Israel, House Speaker Newt Gingrich was upbeat about his talks yesterday with Yasser Arafat and insisted he was just trying to help move the peace process forward.

Later, the Georgia Republican alluded to his outspoken speech Tuesday to Israel's parliament, when, veering from U.S. policy, he declared Jerusalem "the united and eternal capital of Israel." Yesterday, Gingrich said it was his guess that Arafat himself knew Jerusalem would always be the capital of Israel.

From the clean AP version

The first fracas erupted Sunday when Rep. Gingrich accused chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat of fomenting violence and demanding that Mr. Erekat not attend the meeting with Mr. Arafat.

At issue was a planned Gingrich visit to a proposed site for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Palestinians vehemently oppose any formal recognition of Israel's claim to all of the city, and Mr. Erekat warned there would be body bags if the visit went ahead. Or the New York Times

Mr. Gingrich was greeted in Israel with unusual honors, including long hours spent with Mr. Netanyahu and an address to the Parliament. His appearance there on Tuesday prompted heckling and a walkout by Arab legislators. ''You are anti-Arab!'' screamed Abdulwahab Darawshe, leader of the Democratic Arab Party.

So any notion that this was an enthusiastic embrace of Arafat doesn't fly with the news stories of the day. Gingrich was reasonably friendly with the Palestinian Arab side, he welcomed visits by PA officials to the United States and suggested more fact finding missions. He was supportive of a peace process, but he also took a clear and unambiguously pro-Israel line.

"No Palestinian official should talk about or threaten bloodshed, but yet it is a routine pattern in this region for the Palestinian Authority to in effect, incite violence. I think it is totally wrong, and the United States frankly should condemn it routinely and point out to the world who it is who is suggesting violence," Gingrich said on CNN's "Late Edition."

None of these statements are altogether extraordinary, a number of Republicans have said similar things, but in the late nineties the peace process had clearly broken down, Netanyahu's victory was a sign that Israelis were tired of the surrender process under Rabin and Peres. They wanted some measure of security, even while the Clinton Administration was doing everything possible to get Netanyahu out. Something they even succeeded in doing.

The peace process was still a mantra then, more so than it is today. Gingrich already had larger ambitions and along with a bipartisan delegation of Republicans and Democrats he met with Arafat in order to play the statesman, but he took the side of Netanyahu over Clinton. Considering that history is repeating itself under Obama, that should be considered significant.

Gingrich's position on Israel has been fairly consistent over the years. And he's expressed himself far more directly in ways that few Republican national leaders have. The following is from a year earlier in 1997.

Gingrich said it's dangerous "to confuse the terrorist and the democracy ... It is extraordinarily dangerous to always impose the burden on those who are your friends because you're too timid to tell the truth to those who are your enemies."

The speaker suggested the Clinton Administration is undermining Israel's security by equating Palestinian violence with new Israeli housing in east Jerusalem. The latest round of violence between Palestinian youths and Israeli troops flared after the Israeli government broke ground on a new housing project in the area.

Gingrich also said the U.S. should adopt "principles that say, 'If you're a terrorist, you should not expect to live very long,'" and make a commitment "to pre-emptive strikes when we deem them appropriate."

The same year of his visit, Gingrich was even more blunt when it came to the Clinton-Arafat troika.

''It's become the Clinton Administration and Arafat against Israel,'' Mr. Gingrich said at a news conference. ''The Clinton Administration says: 'Happy birthday. Let us blackmail you on behalf of Arafat.

In 2002, Gingrich was still saying blasting Arafat and suggesting that he should be expelled from Israel. He was also doing it seven years earlier in 1995.

Gingrich said: "I'm told that if we were to move the embassy there tomorrow, that this would cause enormous unrest among those neighbors that would like to destroy Israel. Well, I'm frankly not sympathetic to that. And part of my reaction is: They ought to grow up.

As early as 1990, Gingrich was taking on even Senator Dole over Israel. He's been consistent on the issue for nearly two decades. You can read him saying similar things twenty years ago. Has he been perfect on the issue?

In 1993 he seemed to have a friendly meeting with Arafat and laid out some suggestions for a viable state. That's the source of the first photo. Sometime around then he appears to have questioned moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, something that he has otherwise supported for seventeen years. Both these events were obscure enough that there are hardly any news items about them. They also occurred during a period when most people, even those who should have known better, did begin to believe that peace might be possible.

As with any politician there is no telling what he might do with executive power, but Gingrich has one of the best pro-Israel records of anyone in Congress running for the White House right now. He certainly has the longest such record. It's not implausible to think that he does mean it.

The release of the photo is a transparent smear by the wildly Anti-Israel Sam Stein, who has moved on to plying his wares at the Huffington Post. Redistributing the photo without a larger context is misleading. As is relying on a story from a source of Sam Stein's.

Gingrich met with Arafat twice. Both times within the context of congressional events. He has also repeatedly spoken the hard truths about Arafat and the PLO, even comparing them to Nazis. He's not the only pro-Israel candidate in the race. Santorum knows the issues and is pro-Israel. For anyone looking for a pro-Israel candidate, either man is a good choice.

More significantly the out of context release of this photo is typical of the smears we're seeing in the race. And we are going to be seeing lots more of the same. That's why I thought it worthwhile to run this piece which is not a traditional article, but a hasty clarification of a photo that is making its rounds in the blogsphere.

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