Republicans frustrated on Election Night 2010 that the GOP was unable to win Vice President Joe Biden’s old Senate seat in Delaware were heartened later in the night when they won a more symbolic and consequential seat: President Barack Obama’s seat in Illinois.
But it turned out that the victory was more than symbolic. The new senator from Illinois, former Rep. Mark Kirk, has been perhaps the president’s most knowledgeable and substantive critic in Congress on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president’s old seat then, far from being just another statistic in the Republican election wave, has been haunting him, doggedly pursuing him as he navigates the challenge of Mideast peace.
There are two facets to the effectiveness of Kirk’s criticisms: timing and issue depth.
The day Hamas and Fatah announced they had reached a unity deal, Kirk tweeted almost immediately: “Hamas+Fatah=probable suspension of US aid to Palestinian Authority…Hamas supports terror, killed 26 American citizens.”
Kirk’s rapid response gives him credibility on the issue—he doesn’t have to convene focus group to test its popularity or call together his advisers to find out what it all means. This would be a tremendous detriment if he was wrong, but he wasn’t. He has a strong enough grasp of American law and of Palestinian politics to know right away the implications of major developments in the region.
In March, we saw the brutal murders of the Fogel family (including three children) by Palestinian terrorists in the Jewish village of Itamar. While the Western media gave it scant attention and some news outlets portrayed the Fogel family as deserving of their fate for living in disputed territory, Israeli officials recognized the culprit: A Palestinian media that dehumanizes Jews to the point where slitting the throat of a young child becomes something less than barbaric.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told me a couple days after the murders that such events don’t happen in a vacuum, and that the incitement must end. Mark Kirk was one of the few in the U.S. to draw the same conclusion, and he led the writing of a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pressing her to take a more forceful tack with Mahmoud Abbas on the issue. The letter, which garnered the signatures of more than a quarter of the Senate, read in part:
“Although President Abbas has expressed his sorrow over the Itamar massacre, the Palestinian Authority must take unequivocal steps to condemn the incident and stop allowing the incitement that leads to such crimes. Educating people toward peace is critical to establishing the conditions to a secure and lasting peace.
“The Itamar massacre was a sobering reminder that words matter, and that Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel can lead to violence and terror. We urge you to redouble your efforts to impress upon the Palestinian leadership that continuing to condone incitement is not tolerable. We also urge you to consider focusing adequate training and educational programs in the West Bank and Gaza that promote peaceful coexistence with Israel.”
The letter, importantly, also includes other recent instances of official Palestinian incitement to back up its claims.
This is nothing new for Kirk. About a year ago, when the Israeli housing minister announced plans for more homes in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem while Biden was visiting, administration officials berated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, though it was clear at the time that Netanyahu didn’t know the announcement was coming either. Kirk and Pennsylvania Democrat Christopher Carney wrote to Obama asking him to keep his eye on the ball.
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