For anyone who still thinks that people with great credentials must know what they are talking about, the State Department’s release last week of an email from retired U.S. diplomat Thomas Pickering to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to covertly foment anti-Israel protests as a strategy for bringing about Mideast peace was a sobering education to the contrary.

Pickering, considered the very model of a Foreign Service officer, capped a distinguished career as President Clinton’s undersecretary of state. Prior to that he served as U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, India and Russia, with a stint as ambassador to the United Nations for good measure. So when Pickering’s Dec. 11, 2011, email to Hillary Clinton’s top aide, subject line “A note for Secretary Clinton,” was disclosed, there was reason to wonder whether, for all of his credentials, he has any grasp of reality when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As for Secretary Clinton’s instruction to “Pls print,” one can only hope that reflected not on its significance but rather that she’d had trouble reading it on her Blackberry.

Pickering recommended that Palestinian women be organized to launch “demonstrations and sit-ins in their own territories calling for peace,” in order to “stimulate a supporting parallel and congruent effort by women in Israel … to do the same thing on their side.” The thrust of the protests, Pickering writes, should be “demonstrations against all aspects of [Israeli] occupation on the Palestinian side,” with corresponding protests against the Israeli government “on the Israeli side … [o]utside the Prime Minister’s office and the major squares and parks in Jerusalem and elsewhere.”

Having urged the secretary of state to orchestrate all of these demonstrations, Pickering went on to urge her to hide the U.S. government’s role in doing so. This, of course, would mean enlisting the administration in a program of deceiving the American people and the world in order to ensure that our government’s role was concealed. “Most of all,” Pickering emphasized to Secretary Clinton, “the United States cannot be seen to have stimulated, encouraged or be the power behind it, for reasons you will understand better than anyone. I believe third parties and a number [of] NGOs on both sides would help.”

It is difficult to decide which aspect of the veteran diplomat’s email is more depressing: his recommendation that the United States engage in secret operations to organize rallies against an American ally and lie to the American people about it, or his jaw-dropping naïvete about, or disregard for, the continuing cause of this conflict – a cause which at this point should be plain for all to see.

The problem is not Israeli intransigence about an independent Palestinian state. If it were, Israel would not have offered such a state to the Palestinians three times in the last 15 years alone — a state consisting of all of Gaza, virtually all of the West Bank and a capital in East Jerusalem. The problem is that the Palestinians have refused to accept such a state as long as it means making peace with the Israelis — which is why each time an independent Palestinian state was offered in return for peace, the Palestinians rejected it.

Are the Palestinian women that Pickering hoped would hit the streets in protest going to call upon the Palestinian leadership to accept the state it keeps rejecting? Would they call upon Hamas, which has launched 16,000 rockets from Gaza at Israeli civilians because it refuses to accept the existence of any Israel within any borders, to renounce its policy of seeking Israel’s annihilation? Would they call upon a Palestinian civil society that widely supports the murder of Israelis to end a culture of death?

“To see what it is in front of one’s nose,” George Orwell wrote, “needs a constant struggle.” Tom Pickering’s unfortunate email indicates that he needs to try harder.

Jeff Robbins, a former U.S. delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Commission under President Clinton, is an
attorney in Boston.

This article ran previously in the Boston Herald.