In interviews, speeches and leaked emails, Hillary Clinton appears averse to pressuring Israel, and should she be elected president, she seems poised to allow the status quo to prevail with the Palestinians unless Israel seeks to expand settlements in the West Bank.
“A Potemkin [sham or artificial] process is better than nothing,” Clinton is reported by WikiLeaks to have said in a March 2015 email after a re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he still supported a two-state solution to secure “Israel’s future.”
Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Democratic and Republican secretaries of state, told The Jewish Week that Clinton’s observation is an “acknowledgement that the odds of solving the conflict now are slim to none. … Given how large the gaps are, you can’t solve this now. If you look at her memoir, she expresses unease about calling for a comprehensive settlement” between Israel and the Palestinians.
He said he believes she will instead “want to defuse the toxic relationship that exists between Bibi [Netanyahu] and [Barack] Obama.”
Another leaked email listed meeting with Netanyahu as priority No. 1 in her first 100 days, signaling the importance of mending the Israeli-U.S. relationship. Indeed, the Clinton campaign’s determination to start anew is seeded throughout emails stolen from her campaign chairman John Podesta’s private account and dumped in recent weeks by WikiLeaks.
The emails quote Clinton’s comments at the Saban Forum last December in which she said she wants to “work toward very much strengthening and intensifying [the U.S.-Israeli] relationship on military matters, on terrorism, and on everything else that we can do …. [It] will send a strong message to our own peoples as well as the rest of the world.”
And the emails revealed that a draft section of the speech was deleted that had called for both sides to work towards achieving a two-state solution and for Palestinian rights.
These emails suggest a pragmatic veteran of foreign policy, not particularly heartening to those hoping a President Hillary Clinton would get the United States once again involved in trying to be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although the Israeli government appears intent on maintaining the status quo, Palestinians who don’t foresee a resolution to the conflict had in recent months gone on a stabbing spree against innocent Israelis and soldiers.
But Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Clinton “knows she cannot impose [a solution] – it has to come from the parties.”
“I think that right now she is focused on the election and there is no point speculating what will be in another three or four months,” he told The Jewish Week. “President Obama is still running the show and he told me he will not be a lame-duck president but will remain actively involved.”
Asked about reports that Obama may give a speech outlining his vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace or may try to get the United Nations to impose a settlement, Hoenlein said: “I don’t think they have determined themselves what to do. I’ve been told no final decision has been made and that it will not come until after the election.”
Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, has emphasized his personal respect for Israel and for Judaism, noting that he is an admirer of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that his own daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, are raising their children as Jews. Though earlier in the campaign Trump spoke of being neutral in any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he more recently has spoken of supporting Jerusalem’s policies and is highly critical of the Iran nuclear agreement, which he calls “the worst deal” ever.
Former diplomat Miller said that if Clinton wins and Obama then decides to “do something unilaterally” in terms of the Palestinians, he will first see what she [Clinton] thinks. If she says ‘I don’t need a U.N. Security Council resolution now – you are putting me on a path against the Israeli prime minister’ – I can’t see him saying ‘oh boy, let’s go for it’. … If he decides to give a speech, I doubt whether she would oppose that.”
Shabtai Shavit, former director-general of Israel’s Mossad, its foreign intelligence agency, said he shares that view.
“People here told me Obama would not do anything that does not suit the next president, assuming it will be Hillary,” he said during a trip here sponsored by the IPF, Israel Policy Forum. “I believe if she wants to play a role in the future political process to solve the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, she would prefer to solve it from square one.”
America “should play a role and more than that,” he continued, noting that American troops are on the ground in the Iraqi campaign against Mosul. “America has vested interests in the region and cannot desert it entirely.”
Shavit said he believes it is “feasible” that Egypt and Saudi Arabia could help bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has offered to help mediate a peace agreement between different Palestinian factions as a prelude to brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. And the Saudis, Shavit noted, are “the initiators of the Arab League [peace] proposal of 2002.
“The government of Israel shares with the Saudi kingdom very significant interests,” he said. “One is the [fear of] Iran going nuclear, and the second is fighting the fundamentalist global jihad. We and the Egyptians also have close cooperation in fighting extreme Islam, and there is a heavy presence of ISIS in the Sinai, which causes them big problems. Hamas is also cooperating with ISIS, which causes the Egyptians to share the same interests as the Israelis.”
There were conflicting reports this week that said the Saudis have withdrawn the $20 million in monthly payments they have been making to the Palestinian Authority. One report said the payments stopped six months ago, but a Palestinian official was quoted as denying the payments had stopped. The Saudis have not commented.
If they did stop their funding, some observers said it could have been for domestic reasons, but others said it could be seen as a way to pressure the PA to come to the bargaining table.
“I think the Saudis want to see the Palestinian issue resolved and are probably working indirectly with the Israeli and Egyptian governments to achieve that,” said Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents and a Clinton supporter.
“Sisi is an important character but it really depends on the prime minister and how he expresses himself to the new president,” he added. “Settlement expansion will impede any warming of relations with Washington and [peace] talks.”
Peter Joseph, chairman emeritus of the Israel Policy Forum and who has worked on the Clinton campaign, said he expects that should she win on Nov. 8 she would “continue the excellent security cooperation that currently exists … and continue her vigorous defense of Israel at international forums as she did when she was secretary of state.”
He noted that Clinton – as well as Trump – criticized the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations last week for voting to deny Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
But Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, a Trump supporter, said he fears that a Clinton presidency might continue four more years of a strained relationship with Israel.
“If she wins and the Democrats get the majority of the Senate and the House, she would be pushed to the left – and in my mind that means the Bernie Sanders people will have a tremendous amount of power,” he said. “If the agenda is left-wing liberal, we have problems.”
Rabbi Rosenberg, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth El in Edison, N.J., predicted that only if Congress remained in Republican hands would Clinton “take the middle road and be more conservative.”