Politics

Powell refuses to defend Hagel on Israeli-Palestinian ‘moral equivalency’

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Former Gen. Colin Powell walked onto a Sunday talk show to tout President Barack Obama’s choice for defense secretary, but instead punted when he was asked to defend Sen. Chuck Hagel on one of his most vulnerable points — whether he views Israelis and Palestinians as equally culpable for the violence in the Holy Land.

“There is a sense among his critics that [Hagel] views this [conflict] in an evenhanded way, that they equally share the blame … Is that his view?” asked David Gregory, the host of NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“Well, I’ll let — you know, he should be able to give his views which he will do at the confirmation hearing,” Powell said, failing to robustly declare that Hagel does not see Israelis and Palestinians as equally blameworthy.

“I don’t believe that these moral equivalency between the two sides … [and] you will have to ask him what he believes,” added Powell, who has positioned himself as a moderate GOP supporter of Obama.

Critics claim that Hagel’s statements suggest that the Nebraska Republican views Israelis and Palestinians as equally responsible for the violence in the region.

In 2002, for example, during the premeditated Palestinian terror war against Israel, Hagel said that “both Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a war not of their making … Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.”

Hagel’s statement placing the peacemaking onus on Israel came just two years after then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a peace deal so generous that then-Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan reportedly told late Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat that he would be committing a “crime” against his own people if he didn’t accept it. Arafat walked away from the offer and immediately launched a terror war against Israel.

Hagel has also said the U.S. should open negotiations with Hamas, which has launched rocket-attacks against Israeli civilians from its enclave in the Gaza Strip. Israel ceded the Gaza Strip to Palestinian groups in 2005. Hamas, which launched a coup to take over the Gaza Strip, has repeatedly reaffirmed their intent to destroy Israel.

While Powell appeared on NBC’s Sunday show, GOP and Democratic senators used their appearances on other Sunday talk shows to cast doubt on Hagel’s merits.

“I think it’s fair to say that if you look at his prior positions, that he has a lot of questions to answer about this,” New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte said on Fox News Sunday. “I’m deeply troubled by it.”

“I want to sit down and get his view points on Israel, our greatest ally,” West Virginia’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said on CBS.

Throughout Powell’s appearance on NBC, he tried to boost Hagel.