Will the Real Hillary Please Stand Up?

As first lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton was the darling of Palestinians and Arabs when late in Bill Clinton's term she uttered the hot button word, Palestine.

Since then Ms. Clinton has flip flopped depending on the political winds. As a senator for the state of New York she became a staunch Israeli supporter standing by the Jewish state whether it was justifiable or not. To win the US presidency she continued in this pro-Israel stance but as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, she flipped back.

Shortly after being sworn in and speaking on Al Jazeera TV (that in itself is a change of Washington's bias, according to Al Arrabiya TV), Clinton stressed clearly and unambiguously the Obama administration's rejection of any settlement activities including "natural growth," as she said. The unity of Obama, Clinton and envoy Mitchell on this prerequisite of the road map was welcomed by Palestinians living under occupation.

It is not hard to understand why everyone who supports a two-state solution sees Jewish settlement activities in what will become the Palestinian state as a knife in the heart of such a deal. The previous as well as current US administrations consider the creation of a viable Palestinian state with contiguity in the "national interest" of the United States. It follows that any actions that directly block the chances of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state are actions that are against US national interests and not just Palestinian interests.

So it was another shock when Secretary Clinton met with Palestinian President Abbas and pressed him to enter negotiations with Israel even if it doesn't adhere to the international community's demand of a 'freeze.' Instead of placing the pressure on the guilty party, Clinton considered Abbas's position a precondition while lavishing praise on right wing Israeli Prime Prime Minister Netanyahu for agreeing to build "only" 3,000 more new settlement units in the West Bank and continue to irritate Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Sixteen years earlier Palestinians in the occupied territories were surprised to hear that the PLO had reached a secret deal with Israel in the Norwegian capital Oslo. When Haidar Abdel Shafi, who headed the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace conference, learned that it didn't include a settlement freeze, he and many other Palestinians publicly opposed it. Since then, the demand that Israel completely freeze all settlement construction (including those attributed to natural growth) has become a litmus test of whether the Israelis are serious about peace.

Jewish settlements built on land occupied by Israel in 1967 are considered by the international community to be illegal and in clear violation of the Geneva Convention, which is aimed at regulating military occupations. More recently, in 2004, the International Court of Justice at the Hague unanimously ruled that the settlements were illegal when considering an appeal against Israel for building a wall inside Palestinian territories.

Successive US administrations have also repeatedly rejected settlement activity.

For the US, the settlements have proven to be an equal-opportunity obstacle, obstructing both Republican and Democratic diplomacy. Former President Carter believed he had a commitment to freeze settlements at Camp David. The Clinton administration attempted to put brakes on then-Prime Minister Netanyahu's efforts to construct a new settlement near Bethlehem. After a short hiatus, construction resumed. Today, Har Homa, built on Jabal Abu Ghnaim with the aim of cutting off Bethlehem from Jerusalem, is home to 19,000 settlers. Some of the new settlements that Netanyahu wants to continue building are in the same settlement that President Clinton opposed.

Jeff Aronson, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, concludes that Israeli leaders will continue to be able to fool their American counterparts on this issue. Some Israeli right-wing leaders like Menachem Begin, Shamir, and Netanyahu trumpet their settlement achievements. Others, including Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert "talked left and built right". The UN security council has also ruled against settlements in numerous occasions, directly or in the prelude, to various resolutions.

Ironically, and as a result of the uproar by Arab leaders about Clinton's pro-Israel statements, she went to Morocco and told Arab foreign ministers that while what Netanyahu has done is "unprecedented," it is still doesn't meet the US expectations.

"This offer falls far short of what we would characterize as our position or what our preference would be," she added. "But if it is acted upon, it will be an unprecedented restriction on settlements and would have a significant and meaningful effect on restraining their growth." Note the term "if acted upon."

So after all this flip flopping, many Palestinians ask the simple question of what is the real position of the US secretary of state, and will the real Hillary Clinton please stand up?

Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. His email is