Clegg loves Israel (how could he not?) but urges some changes

Britain’s Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, currently the man of the hour in the UK, told Haaretz this week about his real views on Israel:

“As to the accusations that I am hostile to Israel, my actions prove the opposite. I have always sharply opposed various efforts to impose academic and cultural sanctions on Israel. I am also one of those who said that Britain should not have participated in the Durban 2 conference when it became clear that it would turn into an anti-Israel event.”

“I have tremendous admiration for the state of Israel and its people. When I visited, I was once again exposed to the genius of this nation, which has managed to maintain a democratic regime and a thriving and open economy, despite its existence under a constant threat. This is a great achievement.

But we must distinguish clearly between the Israeli and the Jewish people on the one hand, and certain actions of the Israeli government on the other. If I have criticism it is focused solely on these actions. I plan to continue to voice my thoughts, which stem from honest and legitimate concern, and in my estimation that the long term interests of the people of Israel are not being met properly at this time.”

Clegg rejects speaking to Hamas “as long as Hamas continues to nurture an extremist ideology of violence and terror. I totally understand the feelings of the residents of Sderot who are under constant missile attacks that are meant to impose terror. My condemnations of Hamas have always been clear and unequivocal, and the same is true of my attitude toward the fact that Israel has the full right to defend its inhabitants. That is the role of every country and every government.

“However,” he adds, “I don’t understand the Israeli strategy regarding Gaza. The imposition of the siege against 1.5 million people, many of them young people who become increasingly itter, and the disproportionate use of force.

Operation Cast Lead did of course bring about a certain neutralization of the attackers and the missile attacks …¬ but did it reduce the bitterness prevailing between the peoples, did it weaken Hamas’ position, and did it guarantee Israel’s long-term security interests? I’m not at all certain.”

Clegg comes out against Israel’s “continued development of the illegal settlements,” he welcomes the approaching proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and as far as Hamas is concerned, he says: “The only way to deal with Hamas is to work to split the organization between the extremists who want to destroy the peace process and those who are willing over the long term to recognize Israel and to work to find a solution in a non-violent manner.”

Clegg rejects out of hand the claim that the British public is today the most “anti-Israel” in Europe.