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State Dept. Insights on Mideast: Learn about Israel in Florida

Clinton swears in Obama’s “peace advisor” Dan Shapiro as new ambassador and reveals US learns so much about Israel by spending time in Florida.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 7/10/2011, 12:05 PM / Last Update: 7/10/2011, 12:35 PM

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sworn in U.S. President Barack Obama’s “peace advisor” Dan Shapiro as new ambassador and reveals the United States learns so much about Israel by spending time in Florida.

Shapiro served for two years and a half as White House senior director for Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council and has been one of the president’s closest advisors during the period that the Middle East “peace process” has collapsed.

Amid lots of jokes and laughter, Secretary Clinton said at the ceremony Friday, “You’d be surprised how much you can learn about Israel and the challenges it faces by spending quality time in Palm Beach and Boca Raton" -- a reference to areas with large Jewish communities.

The comment, although in jest, reflects the deep gap in the American administration’s understanding of Middle East culture in general and Israel in specific. Administrations headed by the two President Bushes and Bill Clinton have been trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian Authority agreement since 1991, when then-Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir bowed to American pressure and debated with an Arab delegate, one of a team that included officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

They have managed to bring about signed agreements, mainly the Oslo Accords that exploded with the Second Intifada, also known as the Oslo War, which broke out in 2000, killing more than one thousand Israeli civilians and wounding thousands of others.

Following the failure of the Bush administration’s Roadmap Plan, the United States has skipped over commitments agreed to by the Palestinian Authority, and President Obama so far has failed to bring PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table with Israel.

Abbas, since taking over from Arafat after his death more than six years ago, set out on a clear-cut diplomatic globe-trotting tour to shore up support for creating the Palestinian state without compromising on its demands. The Bush and Obama administrations have pressured Israel to surrender former “red lines” but President Obama now has reached a dead end as Abbas refuses even to declare Israel as a Jewish state while insisting that the Netanyahu government accept all of his demands before sitting down for “talks.”

President Obama’s latest overture was to emphasize that Israel should “negotiate” borders based on the temporary 1949 Armistice Lines, which ended with the Six-Day War in 1967, adding that there would be “land swaps.” Abbas has rejected the proposal.

Nevertheless, Clinton praised President Obama for "sending one of his closest advisors to be our new ambassador…and demonstrating not only our national commitment, but his personal commitment to the strength of this relationship to Israel's future, its security, and its success.”

She added, “Because we are convinced that Israel’s future depends upon achieving a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, we have consistently worked to support negotiations between the parties.”

Shapiro first visited Israel at the age of four with his parents during the Yom Kippur War, and his education included studying for a total of one year at Hebrew University during the first intifada. He speaks fluent Hebrew.

“Dan and his classmates spent many hours discussing how Israelis and Palestinians could one day live in peace, side-by-side. Dan has seen firsthand that the status quo is unsustainable,” Clinton stated.

Shapiro also has worked closely with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who recently quit his post out of frustration from his failure to implement in Israel his Western negotiating culture, as highlighted in a peace agreement he forged in Ireland.