Mar 02 2009

My short meeting with Secretary Clinton

Published by at 11:06 pm under Articles

By Daoud Kuttab / Sharm el Sheikh

The Gaza Reconstruction conference was a busy affair. Speakers gave talks governments and foundations made pledges and politicians debated all day. In the end it was left to the key players to tell the press about the results of the all day event. The Egyptian and Norwegian Foreign Ministers along with the Palestinian Prime Minister gave the press an accounting of the days work. Numbers were thrown, financing mechanisms were discussed and next steps were expounded on.

Next came the US Secretary of State, Hillay Clinton. She gave a short opening remark about how pleased she was to be in Sharm el Sheikh and how happy she was with the progress made at the conference. The question and answer period was short, I wanted to ask a question but was not picked on. The last question to Mrs. Clinton from an Egyptian journalist was a simple one. Do you believe that a Palestinian state will be declared within a year. She could have easily deflected the question but she didn’t instead she gave a passionate answer about how she entered politics because she believes in defending children and that she and her team will do everything possible to make sure that this dream does turn into a reality.

While the question and answer period was over, I was called on to meet privately with the Secretary. Before I got too excited, I was told that I could ask only one question ( I would have liked to ask the question in the press conference) but the idea of a private meeting with the secretary was welcomed and so I went.

After the US officials inviting me completed negotiating with the security people, I found myself alone with the secretary (well with about ten people not far waiting to see her as well). As soon as our eyes met, I shook her hand and I reminded her of an incident that took place 13 years earlier. I had been arrested by the Palestinian Authority after our television station in Ramallah broadcast a session of the Palestinian Legislative Council dealing with corruption. I said that you and Madeline Albright and White House Spokesman Mike McCurry had spoken out on my behalf. She remembered the incident and smiled.

I quickly realized that I should not waste my time with stories and must do the duty of a journalist and ask my question. So I asked her about the blockade on Gaza. My question focused on her interest in children and I asked her what is the fault of a Palestinian child to be taken hostage by politicians. Despite her earlier emotional plea for the children of Palestine, this question failed to move her and she began an often repeated routine of faulting the rockets for the Israeli attacks. Hamas actually provokes Israel to respond was the gist of what she was saying. I was unhappy with the answer but was aware that my time was out. I decided to make one more follow up. “But what is the fault of children to have this collective punishment to them, isn’t this what international law and treaties are supposed to protect against.”

The secretary tried to answer using the same logic of blaming Hamas on causing the Israelis to respond. I wasn’t convinced and I am not sure how convinced she was with this well used answer. Realizing that my time was over, I shook her hands, took a picture, and whispered in here ear that my daughter is a fan of hers, and then I left clutching on my notes and my camera and hoping that even though she might not have given me the answer I wanted, that she will think about that question in the months and years ahead.

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