x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Russian Israelis blocking peace, Clinton says

Israeli leaders have reacted with disapproval to remarks made by the former US president Bill Clinton that singled out Israel's sizable Russian population for impeding peace in the Middle East.

A Russian immigrant to Israel is greeted by well-wishers as she arrives at Israel's Ben Gurion airport last year.
A Russian immigrant to Israel is greeted by well-wishers as she arrives at Israel's Ben Gurion airport last year.

JERUSALEM // Israeli leaders have reacted with disapproval to remarks made by the former US president Bill Clinton that singled out Israel's sizable Russian population for impeding peace in the Middle East. Speaking at a conference in New York on Tuesday, Mr Clinton said former-Russian Israelis were among the least amenable to coming to terms with the Palestinians.

He expressed particular concern about the younger generation of Israeli soldiers, saying that an "increasing number of the young people in the IDF [the Israeli military] are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land". "This presents a staggering problem," said Mr Clinton, whose remarks were first published on the website of the US magazine Foreign Policy.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, issued a statement on Wednesday expressing regret over the comments. "As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel," the prime minister's statement said. Roughly a million people from the former Soviet Union immigrated to Israel as the Cold War ended, forming an influential political and cultural demographic in the country. Israel's controversial foreign minister and leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, immigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

Mr Clinton mentioned a conversation he had with Natan Sharansky during the failed Camp David summit in 2000, in which the former Soviet dissident and current Israeli parliamentarian was singled out as the only Israeli minister to reject the proposed peace agreement at the time. Attended by the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, the Camp David peace summit ultimately collapsed over disagreements involving the so-called "final status" issues and was followed by the Second Intifada.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Mr Sharansky as saying in response to the remarks that if "the reports of president Clinton's comments are accurate, I am particularly disappointed by the president's casual use of inappropriate stereotypes about Israelis, dividing their views on peace based on ethnic origins". He added that "these are uncharacteristic comments from a man who has always been a sensitive and thoughtful listener and conversation partner".

Mr Clinton's wife, Hillary, is the US secretary of state and a primary driver behind the current negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. @Email:hnaylor@thenational.ae