A March 29 article in The Algemeiner newspaper described a phone call between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. According to Hoenlein, Clinton told him, “We need to all work together to return the special US-Israel relationship to constructive footing, to get back to basic shared concerns and interests.”
The statement hints at the problematic relationship between the two countries under President Barack Obama, but also sends a reassuring message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters in the US Jewish community. But Clinton didn’t stop there. True, this conversation with a senior American Jewish leader took place just days before Clinton officially announced that she was running again for the Democratic nomination for president, a race in which all the candidates walk on eggshells when it comes to Israel. Nevertheless, Clinton threw caution to the wind with the potentially tendentious remark, “We must ensure that Israel never becomes a partisan issue.”
As a veteran politician, she hardly expects her Republican rivals to give up the Israel card in the presidential election. She certainly remembers the Jerusalem ambush that Republican nominee Bob Dole and House speaker Newt Gingrich set at the time for her husband when they proposed moving the US Embassy in Israel to a “united” Jerusalem. Netanyahu, then head of the opposition, was hard at work behind the scenes, doing all the he could to move this proposed legislation forward. What it did was force the president and the Democratic members of Congress to choose between a crisis in the already fragile diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians then underway, or one with the powerful pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). These days, Netanyahu, aided by his billionaire patron Sheldon Adelson, is more obvious about tugging the strings behind Republican legislative efforts to torpedo the agreement with Iran. In doing so, he's allegedly forcing the Democrats in general and Clinton in particular to choose between another crisis in the Middle East followed by a crisis in US relations with its partners in the UN Security Council or a one with the powerful Jewish organizations back home.
In the 2012 presidential elections, the Netanyahu-Adelson tag team threw its support behind Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The Jewish billionaire announced at the time that he would do everything in his power to remove Obama from office. Today, he is using fortune and power to keep Clinton from winning the White House. Netanyahu will be forced to choose between placating Adelson, the man who created a widely circulating newspaper just for him, and his innate desire to avoid getting on the bad side of the woman who could well become the next president of the United States.
As of now, Netanyahu has absolutely no reason to declare war on Clinton. In a comprehensive interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg in 2014, she said things that would certainly have passed Adelson’s pro-Netanyahu bar. She accused former Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of causing the peace talks with Israel to fail, and even said, “I saw Netanyahu move from being against the two-state solution to announcing his support for it.” She even noted that during his first term in office, Netanyahu took steps toward creating a Palestinian state, and that he gave up territory and moved in that direction, “as hard as it was.” Later she recalled how she persuaded Netanyahu to agree to an unprecedented freeze on construction in the settlements for nine months. What Clinton apparently forgot was that the territory Netanyahu gave up was a tiny strip of land in Hebron and even then, only after her husband exerted serious pressure on him, or that Netanyahu was “convinced” to freeze construction in the territories after the US president twisted his arm.
Old Clinton friends, who are active in Jewish peace organizations in the United States and Israel, have on more than one occasion expressed their disappointment to me personally over Clinton’s meager-to-nonexistent contribution as secretary of state to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They assume that her cautious and sometimes even supportive approach toward Netanyahu is intended to win the hearts of Jewish donors and AIPAC. At the same time they hope that if she reaches the Oval Office, she will go back to being the same liberal who in 1998 sent a video message to a gathering of young Israelis and Palestinians in which she said, “I think it will be in the long-term interests of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state, and for it to be a state that is responsible for its citizens' well-being, a state that has a responsibility for providing health care and education and economic opportunity to its citizens, a state that has to accept the responsibility of governing.”
The Algemeiner article reported that Clinton has expressed support for a return to the negotiating table to achieve a two-state solution.
There are few American politicians as intimately familiar with the Israelis, the Palestinians and all their little games as she is. It will take the other candidates years to learn what Clinton has already forgotten about the negotiations toward the two-state solution, the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the internecine struggle in the Palestinian leadership and the complete and utter lack of trust between the two parties.
For six years, Obama let the two sides tread water, conducting stale negotiations, and wouldn’t dare to present them with a plan for a permanent solution. Nor is there any indication that he intends to use the time he has left to do that, even though he has the singular advantage enjoyed by presidents at the end of their second term, when they are no longer beholden to lobbies and contributors.
If Clinton does decide to dive into the Arab-Israeli quagmire, all she will have to do is change the first name on the title of the 2000 Clinton Parameters, which sketched out an outline for a permanent solution. She could even add President George W. Bush's road map, which relied, among other things, on the Arab Peace Initiative, offering Israel normalization of relations in exchange for the occupied territories. By doing so, she would not only become the first woman to bear the title of president of the United States, but the American leader to succeed in bringing peace to the Middle East after so many male leaders failed.
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