The Cable

PLO official: I never called for a Jew-free Palestine

Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO representative to Washington, told The Cable today that stories claiming he called for a Palestinian state free of Jews are a "fabrication."

The Daily Caller was the first to report Areikat's remarks, made at a Wednesday breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. Areikat was responding to a question by Daily Caller reporter Jamie Weinstein, who asked whether he imagined that Jews could have a political role in a future Palestinian state.

"Well, you know, I personally still believe as a first step we need to be totally separated and we can contemplate these issues in the future. But after the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict of friction, I think it would be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated first," Areikat said, according to a recording of the session provided to The Cable.

The Daily Caller headlined the story, "Palestinian ambassador reiterates call for a Jew-free Palestinian state," and a similar story in USA Today was entitled, "PLO ambassador says Palestinian state should be free of Jews." The comments also evoked condemnations from top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who accused the Palestinian Authority of adopting a Judenrein policy, referring to the Nazi drive to cleanse Germany of any Jews.

"It's not a misquotation or out of context, it's a total fabrication," Areikat said in an interview today. "I never mentioned the word ‘Jews,' I never said that Palestine has to be free of Jews."

Areikat said that he stands by his call for "separation," but that he intended to refer to the separation of the Israel and Palestinian peoples, not the members of the two religions. Areikat also said that the idea of "separation" is an Israeli idea and that Israeli officials including Defense Minister Ehud Barak have endorsed it.

"Israeli people includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, Druze... When I say the Israeli people, I mean everybody. This is not a religious conflict, this is not against Jews. We want to be a secular state," Areikat said.

"This was a total set-up," Areikat said, adding that Weinstein followed him to his car after the breakfast meeting. "He followed me to my car and asked me if I would allow homosexuals to live in Palestine. I didn't know he was trying to implicate me. It was all premeditated."

Actually, it was the Weekly Standard's John McCormack who asked Areikat the question about homosexuals. Areikat responded that "this is an issue that's beyond my [authority]," McCormack reported.

This is the second time in as many years that Areikat has been mired in controversy related to the future status of Jews in a Palestinian state. In an October 2010 interview with Tablet Magazine, he said, "We need to separate. We have to separate.... I'm not saying to transfer every Jew, I'm saying transfer Jews who, after an agreement with Israel, fall under the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state."

The war of words comes only days before Areikat, Netanyahu, and hundreds of other world leaders will converge on New York for the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly, where a top issue will be the PLO's plan to seek member-state status by appealing to the U.N. Security Council.

State Department Acting Special Envoy David Hale and the National Security Council's Dennis Ross are in the West Bank this week, meeting with top Palestinian officials in a last-ditch attempt to convince the Palestinians not to go through with their plan.

Areikat said the action at the United Nations would probably fall on Sept. 20, and the Obama administration was unlikely to dissuade the Palestinians from moving forward.

"There is a sense of urgency on the part of the administration," said Areikat. "They understand the implications. But unless they really offer something tangible it will be like the [unsuccessful] last visit that [Hale and Ross] had last week."

Here is the full exchange between Weinstein and Areikat:

JW: What kind of state do you perceive the independent Palestinians to be? For instance, do you imagine that in an independent Palestinian state, a Jew could be elected mayor of Ramallah?

MA: I haven't seen the draft resolution but I can assure you the resolution will be calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. And it will definitely include also that it will live side by side in peace and security with Israel...

JW: To my point, do you foresee in an independent Palestinian state, for instance, a member of the Jewish minority there, if they existed, being elected mayor of Ramallah?

MA: Well, you know, I personally still believe as a first step we need to be totally separated and we can contemplate these issues in the future. But after the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict of friction, I think it would be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated first.

Listen to the tape for yourself here:

UPDATE: Weinstein wrote into The Cable to respond to Areikat's charge that Weinstein followed him to his car:

I followed him to his car not to trap the ambassador, but to give him an opportunity to clarify his comments. I asked two times while at his car whether 'Jews,' not Israelis, would be allowed in the West Bank or Gaza in a future Palestinian state and he said two times that they had to be separated. To frame it like I was trying to trap him is absurd. It was just the opposite. I was giving him the opportunity to clarify his comments. I only found out later that he had said the same thing before in an interview with Tablet magazine.

The Cable

Conservatives launch pre-emptive strike against Obama’s Iraq plan

40 prominent conservative foreign policy leaders in Washington are planning to release an open letter to President Barack Obama urging him not to shrink the size of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq down to 4,000, as several reports say he plans to do.

"Failure to leave a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq will leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States," the pundits and former officials argue. "A successful, democratic Iraq will remain a model for other emerging Arab democracies and one day, its neighbor, Iran.  However, a failing state in the heart of the Middle East would destabilize the region, empower Iran, and make vain more than eight years of efforts by the United States in Iraq."

The letter goes on to say that a residual force of only 4,000 U.S. troops "is significantly smaller than what U.S. military commanders on the ground have reportedly recommended and would limit our ability to ensure that Iraq remains stable and free from significant foreign influence."

The letter was organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a group led by William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman, and Dan Senor, and run by Executive Director Jamie Fly. Other signatories on the letter include Gary Bauer, Max Boot, Paul Bremer, Norm Coleman, John Hannah, Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Danielle Pletka, John Podhoretz, Karl Rove, Kori Schake, Randy Scheunemann, Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, Marc Thiessen, and Paul Wolfowitz.

There was one Democratic signee, the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon. One of the organizers of the letter told The Cable that many Democrats contacted to sign on to the letter largely agreed with its contents, but weren't ready to speak out.

"We believe that many Democrats share our concerns about the need for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, but some wanted to give the administration more time to make a final decision. Many of us, however, are concerned that time is running out and the message sent by recent press reports is not encouraging to our Iraqi allies," the organizer said.

The Obama team has been negotiating with the Iraqi government on changes to the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the two countries in 2008, which calls for all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of the year. The administraiton had been proposing 8,000 to 20,000 troops  to remain, but now seems set to settle on a much lower number.

GOP lawmakers are not holding their fire and have already been decrying the expected decision by the White House.

"It would be one of the biggest blunders in American foreign policy to lose Iraq because you had 3,000 troops when you need 10 to 15 [thousand]," Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said this week. "Iran would love that."

Read the full text of the letter after the jump:

Dear President Obama:

The United States has invested significant resources in Iraq over the last eight years.  Under your leadership and that of your predecessor, America has helped Iraq's fledgling democracy emerge as a symbol to other peoples of the region, becoming, in the words of former Secretary of Defense Gates, "a multi-sectarian, multi-ethnic society in the Arab world that shows that democracy can work."

We are thus gravely concerned about recent news reports suggesting that the White House is considering leaving only a residual force of 4,000 or fewer U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of this year.  This number is significantly smaller than what U.S. military commanders on the ground have reportedly recommended and would limit our ability to ensure that Iraq remains stable and free from significant foreign influence in the years to come.

While the Iraqi Security Forces have become increasingly capable of defending Iraq against internal threats, they are not yet able to defend Iraq from external forces.  As a result, Iraq's troops will require after the end of this year continued U.S. assistance in combined-arms training, border protection, air and naval capabilities, logistics, and intelligence.  It is also essential that we maintain a significant military presence at multiple places along Iraq's disputed internal boundaries to allow the United States to assist Kurds and Arabs in the disputed zones with confidence-building.

In recent months, Iran has increased its attempts to expand its influence in Iraq, including through the killing of American forces and support to Iraqi political parties.  Maintaining a robust American presence in-country would blunt these efforts, and help ensure Iraq remains oriented away from Iran and a long-term ally of the United States. 

We therefore urge you to ensure that an adequate number of U.S. troops in Iraq remain after 2011.  We were encouraged by your pragmatism in 2009 as you showed flexibility in the pace of America's drawdown.  We believe that the same pragmatism would counsel a significantly larger force than 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of this year.

Failure to leave a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq will leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States.  A successful, democratic Iraq will remain a model for other emerging Arab democracies and one day, its neighbor, Iran.  However, a failing state in the heart of the Middle East would destabilize the region, empower Iran, and make vain more than eight years of efforts by the United States in Iraq.

You have fulfilled your campaign commitment to the nation to end the war in Iraq.  Now, we request that you ensure that in doing so, we do not lose the peace.

Sincerely,

Gary Bauer

Max Boot

Ellen Bork

Paul Bremer

Norm Coleman

Seth Cropsey

Thomas Donnelly

Colin Dueck

Eric Edelman

Jamie Fly

Reuel Marc Gerecht

Abe Greenwald

John Hannah

Bruce Pitcairn Jackson

Ash Jain

Kenneth M. Jensen

Frederick Kagan

Robert Kagan

Kimberly Kagan

Lawrence Kaplan

William Kristol

Tod Lindberg

Herbert London

Michael Makovsky

Cliff May

Joshua Muravchik

Andrew Natsios

Michael O'Hanlon

Danielle Pletka

John Podhoretz

Karl Rove

Kori Schake

Randy Scheunemann

Gary Schmitt

Dan Senor

Michael Singh

Marisa Cochrane Sullivan

Marc Thiessen

Daniel Twining

Peter Wehner

Kenneth Weinstein

Paul Wolfowitz