Incompetence or Worse?
Posted by Moran Banai
The press did an important service by spotlighting the issue of the Fulbright students that the U.S. was prepared to abandon in Gaza. Since Secretary Rice was taken by surprise when she was asked about the rescinding of the scholarships this morning, the State Department has back-pedaled, finding more money to replace the scholarships they had given away and implying that it was all the fault of the Israelis for refusing to grant the students exceptions to an almost-complete ban on travel from Gaza.
This claim contradicts a couple of lines buried in an AP story entitled “US predicts Israel will relent on Gaza students.” In the article, Anne Gearan reports that:
Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said the current policy is to issue permits only in humanitarian cases and "students are not included under the definition of humanitarian aid."
But then she goes on:
Individual exceptions are made, Lerner said, and the United States did not specifically ask for visas for the eight Gaza students. The U.S. made the decision to cancel the scholarships without coordinating with Israel, Lerner said.
If this reporting is accurate,the United States did not even ask for the permits from the Israelis before deciding it would not be able to get them and giving the money to other students. This is a particularly salient possibility when you consider the 100 Gazan businesspeople who were able to attend the Palestine Investment Conference just last week. Their ability to get in and out of Gaza suggests that what is going on now was a choice on the part of someone at the State Department, not an inevitability. The fact that Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, the third-ranking position at State, lobbied the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. on the question after the initial critical New York Times story and subsequent barrage of questions at the morning press briefing, suggests the same. It also begs the question, why wasn’t that call made before the money was reassigned?
Hopefully, the decision on the Fulbrights will be fully reversed and the students will be here by the time their courses begin. Yet even if it is, and they are, what happened should not, and will not, be quickly forgotten here, in Gaza or in the region. One can only hope that the State Department will learn its lessons well from this.