Former United States president Bill Clinton came under fire from Russian-born Israeli politicians on Wednesday, a day after he told the media that the Russian immigrant population in Israel is an obstacle to peace with Palestinians.
"An increasing number of the young people in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem," Clinton told a roundtable with press in New York. "It's a different Israel. Sixteen percent of Israelis speak Russian."
Foreign Policy magazine quoted Clinton as saying that Russian immigrants are the Israelis least interested in a peace deal with Palestinians. "They've just got there, it's their country, they've made a commitment to the future there," Clinton said. "They can't imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it."
The magazine said that Clinton also mentioned a conversation with former Soviet dissident turned Knesset member Natan Sharansky, who, according to Clinton, was the only Israeli minister to reject the comprehensive peace agreement the former president proposed at the Camp David Summit in 2000.
"I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],'" Clinton was quoted as saying. "He said, ‘I can't vote for this, I'm Russian... I come 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 reportedly replied, "Don't give me this you came here from a jail cell. It's a lot bigger than your jail cell."
But Sharansky denied Wednesday that such a conversation with Clinton ever took place. “A report of President Clinton's comments has been brought to my attention which I hope is inaccurate. I appreciate President Clinton's commitment to peace and talent for political analysis" he said.
“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. It may be that he had in mind our conversations at Wye Plantation years before, where I expressed my serious doubts, given the dictatorial nature of the PA regime, whether Mr. Arafat would be willing to bring freedom to his people, an essential element of a sustainable peace," said Sharansky.
"History has shown that these concerns were justified. 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. I must add that these are uncharacteristic comments from a man who has always been a sensitive and thoughtful listener and conversation partner," said Saransky.
Yisrael Beitenu, the ultra-right wing party comprised mainly of Russian migrants, condemned Clinton's statement Wednesday.
The party released a statement criticizing Clinton for meddling in Israel's internal affairs and for his "crude generalizations".
"The people of Israel are one, and the Russian immigrants, as the other citizens of Israel, yearn for true peace based on recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people," said the statement.
"It seems that Clinton has forgotten that it was the [former] chairman of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat who refused to Clinton's peace offer, which included unbearable concessions on the part of Israel," said the statement.
Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver from Yisrael Beiteinu, said Wednesday in response to Clinton's comments that any external attempt to create division within Israeli society is wrong.
"The Russian immigration contributed to the development of Israel in every field, including science, culture, sports, economy and defense. This year, the entire country is celebrating the Twentieth anniversary of this immigration… reflecting the fact that the Israeli people are united," said Landver.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he regretted Clinton's remarks.
"As an old friend of Israel, Clinton surely knows that the immigrants [from the former Soviet Union] have made a huge contribution to the strengthening and development of Israel and the IDF," said Netanyahu.
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