Former United States President Bill Clinton upset many Israelis this week by putting much of the blame for failed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Russian Israelis. According to Clinton, Israelis who immigrated from the former Soviet Union and their families are more likely to oppose peace.
Many current Israeli MKs are immigrants from the FSU, as is Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party released a statement condemning Clinton's remarks as “crude generalizations.”
“Russian immigrants, as the other citizens of Israeli, yearn for true peace based on recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people,” the statement read. Clinton should remember that it was then-PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, and not Israeli leaders, who rejected his peace proposal ten years ago, it continued.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected Clinton's statements as well, saying, “As an old friend of Israel, Clinton surely knows that the immigrations have made a huge contribution to the strengthening and development of Israel and the IDF.”
MK Lia Shem Tov, head of the Knesset committee on aliyah (immigration) and absorption, said her committee would meet after the holidays to discuss Clinton's statements. She pointed out that Israel is currently engaged in negotiations with PA, and that it is the PA that has repeatedly threatened to end talks.
“Immigrants from the former Soviet Union are Zionists who love their country, and like other citizens, want to live their lives in peace and security. The argument that immigrations oppose peace is completely baseless and stems from a total lack of understanding of this community,” she said.
Clinton was involved in unsuccessful Middle East peace negotiations several years ago. His wife Hillary Clinton is the current U.S. Secretary of State and is deeply involved in ongoing Israel-PA talks.
His comments were made in a discussion with reporters in New York. “An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton claimed.
“It's a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian,” he added.
Clinton claimed that Russians are less likely to support territorial concessions to the PA, “They just got there, it's their country, they've made a commitment to the future there. They can't imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it.”
He ranked other Israelis by their perceived willingness to make peace, putting Israelis whose families have been in the land for hundreds of years in first place, followed by Israelis with roots in Europe, and then Moroccans.
He recounted an alleged conversation at the Camp David summit with former MK Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident who now heads the Jewish Agency. Clinton said he had asked Sharansky about his opposition to peace with the PA, and was told, “I can't vote for this, I'm Russian... I came from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.”
Clinton said he replied that even without Judea and Samaria, Israeli would be “a lot bigger than your jail cell,” a reference to Sharansky's stay in a Soviet prison.
Sharansky later said that the alleged conversation had not taken place. “I appreciate President Clinton's commitment to peace... However, as to the basic facts, I was never at Camp David and never had the opportunity to discuss the negotiations there with President Clinton,” he said.