Israel Still Excluded from Obama Administration’s Touted Counter-Terror Forum

December 6, 2012 - 4:32 AM

Clinton-GCTF

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at an earlier meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, in September 2011 in New York City. (Photo: GCTF)

(CNSNews.com) – Six months after the Obama administration said it was “committed” to involving Israel in its flagship international counter-terrorism initiative, there has evidently been little progress, and the State Department indicated Wednesday it was still trying.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  prepares to attend a ministerial-level meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) in the United Arab Emirates next week, a State Department spokesman said the U.S. would at that meeting again raise the issue with its GCTF partners.

The administration took flak from the start when it excluded Israel from the forum, part of its “smart power approach to counterterrorism.”  The U.S. ally has had decades of experience facing and combating terrorism – far more than most other countries invited to join the forum.

Critics said it was obvious Israel was left out because Muslim countries, which the administration wanted to draw in, would not have joined had Israel been involved.

(A senior administration official said last summer a key aim of the GCTF was “to bridge old and deep divides in the international community between Western donor nations and Muslim majority nations.”)

Eleven of the 29 countries welcomed into the GCTF are members of the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The administration invited one of them, Turkey, to co-chair the initiative – despite its Islamist government’s selective views on terrorism.

At previous GCTF meetings Turkish leaders pushed for a strong focus on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – which is seeking to establish a Kurdish state in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, and is considered by Turkey and the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejects the U.S. and Israeli position on Hamas being a terrorist group. He has positioned himself as one of the Gaza-based Palestinian organization’s closest allies, and during the recent Israel-Hamas conflict called Israel “a terrorist state” responsible for “the massacre of children.”

Facing queries on Israel’s exclusion, the State Department issued a statement last June saying, “We have discussed the GCTF and ways to involve Israel in its activities on a number of occasions, and are committed to making this happen.”

On Wednesday, department spokesman Mark Toner was asked during a press briefing whether there had been progress.

“You know where we stand on this, which is that we’ve discussed with our partners in the Global Counterterrorism Forum ways to involve Israel,” he said. “We said this before. We’re committed to doing so. We’ll raise it again in this venue.”

When further questions were put to the State Department later, a spokeswoman in response pointed to Toner’s comments.

“Alas, it seems that Obama administration is becoming complicit in the de-legitimization of Israel,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin told CNSNews.com, commenting on Israel’s continued exclusion from the GCTF.

“Clinton may see U.S. silence as simply conflict-avoidance, but Erdogan and his Islamist cohorts see U.S. silence and Israel’s exclusion as signs that their effort to wipe Israel off the map are gaining momentum,” he added.

“Global counterterrorism will never succeed so long as some countries adopt an a la carte approach to terrorism” – the view that terrorism “is always bad unless done for a cause which they endorse,” Rubin said.

Next Friday’s GCTF meeting in Abu Dhabi will include the opening of “the first-ever International Center of Excellence on Countering Violent Extremism, which the GCTF set in motion at its September 2011 launch,” the State Department said in a statement.

“The Center will provide a venue for training, dialogue, collaboration, and research to counter violent extremism in all of its forms and manifestations by bringing together the experts, expertise, and experience that exist in countries around the globe.”

Aside from the fact that Israeli passport-holders are not permitted to visit the UAE – or three other GCTF countries, Algeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – Israel’s participation in the forum could also prove awkward because Islamic states are party to documents stipulating that violent attacks by those under “occupation” do not constitute terrorism.

“Peoples’ struggle including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime,” says the OIC’s Convention on Combating Terrorism.

That stance, largely attributed to the Islamic world’s support for the Palestinian cause, has for more than a decade prevented agreement on a legally-binding international global convention against terrorism.