Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. diplomat, has extensive foreign relations training and experience. Among other postings, he served as a U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1985 to 1988. Given his background, one would expect that Pickering would have a clear understanding of the role the United States and its senior diplomats should play in Middle East politics generally and in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic in particular. But a recently disclosed email from Pickering to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2011 — which turned up as part of the investigation into Clinton’s private emails while she led the State Department — paints an entirely different picture.
According to the email, Pickering was impressed by the results of the Arab Spring and wanted to bring that “success” to Israel. Thus, in furtherance of his goal “to put peace back in the center of people’s aspirations [in Israel], as well as their thoughts, and use that to influence the [Israeli] political leadership,” he proposed that the United States — secretly — coordinate peaceful Palestinian demonstrations and unrest in the West Bank to put pressure on the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Under the Pickering plan, Israeli women would do the same on their side of the Green Line. “It must be all and only women,” Pickering cautioned Clinton. “Why? On the Palestinian side the male culture is to use force.”
What was this guy thinking?
Perhaps U.S. secretaries of state get this kind of inappropriate and worthless advice from their colleagues every day. We sure hope not. In any event, Clinton marked the email to be printed, but there is no indication that she actually considered the idea. And, according to her foreign policy adviser Laura Rosenberger, “Hillary Clinton never considered any plan of this sort. Period.” One reason may be that Pickering didn’t say how his vision could be put into effect other than to suggest that “third parties and a number NGOs on both sides would help.”
The idea of the State Department orchestrating protests — even peaceful ones — in Israel has us scratching our heads. Raising tensions in such a volatile area is exactly the wrong way to pursue American diplomacy. Most elementary school students know that, and they have nothing close to Pickering’s diplomatic credentials. And it’s not as if at the end of the day, the Arab Square model on which Pickering apparently based his advice worked out all that well for Egyptians, Tunisians and Syrians.
Once the Pickering email was printed, we trust it was thrown in the trash — where it and all other cockeyed notions of fomenting dissent against allied democratic governments belong.