Hillary Clinton showed more spine with Netanyahu than Obama has

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Yesterday we did a post on a news report that Hillary Clinton wanted to push for a Middle East peace deal as secretary of State, but President Obama was uninterested. This is a followup. –Ed.

I have no trouble believing that Hillary Clinton was willing to press Netanyahu harder than Obama allowed her to do. There were at least four marked occasions in the years 2009-2012 when she stood out front, saying the firm thing he preferred not to say himself.

First on the “natural expansion” settlement units, in the days before Obama’s courageous but very broad and general Cairo speech, it was the secretary of state who told the Israeli prime minister that there must be “no exceptions,” none at all, to the proposed settlement freeze.

Again, Hillary Clinton initiated a 45-minute “furious” phone call to Netanyahu to warn him that he was breaking the U.S.-Israeli understanding by the announcement (timed for Joe Biden’s visit to Jerusalem) of the plans for new settlement units in early March 2010.

Once more, Clinton expanded on this severe judgment in a speech at the Saban Center, December 10, 2010; a speech much stronger than anything Obama has ever said on the subject, where she simply declared: ”We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.” Her voice is grave throughout this speech. She is the bearer of honest difficult news to an ally. Unfortunately, the text of the December 2010 speech has been removed from both the Saban Center and the State Department sites, but some impressive excerpts can be found elsewhere:

“The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and Arab neighbors is a source of tension and an obstacle to prosperity and opportunity for all the people of the region. It denies the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and it poses a threat to Israel’s future security. It is at odds also with the interests of the United States. . . .

“The long-term population trends that result from the occupation are endangering the Zionist vision of a Jewish and democratic state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Israelis should not have to choose between preserving both elements of their dream. But that day is approaching. . . We conclude without a shadow of a doubt that ending this conflict once and for all and achieving a comprehensive regional peace is imperative for safeguarding Israelis’ future. We also look at our friends the Palestinians, and we remember the painful history of a people who have never had a state of their own, and we are renewed in our determination to help them finally realize their legitimate aspirations. The lack of peace and the occupation that began in 1967 continue to deprive the Palestinian people of dignity and self-determination. This is unacceptable, and, ultimately, it too is unsustainable.”

Yet another phone call with Netanyahu, also described as furious, but this one initiated by the Israeli prime minister, occurred just before Obama delivered his May 19, 2011 speech affirming the importance of the “1967 lines” as the point of departure for negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

In view of the Clinton record, then, which is consistent if not continuous from mid-2009 through mid-2011 (after which Obama canceled all interest in the issue of Israel/Palestine for the rest of his term), the claims made on her behalf by members of her staff must be counted as credible. 

Her complete reversal at the November 30, 2012 Saban Center Gala Dinner, where she blamed the Palestinians for the lack of progress in negotiations and said of Netanyahu “the fact was it was a 10-month settlement freeze and he was good to his word” –this certainly showed a more calculating and politic side of Clinton, and there was nothing admirable about the performance; but by then she must have judged that Obama had given up on Palestine. For her to stand alone on such an occasion would be a meaningless gesture from a departing government official.

If one adds it up, the evidence suggests that for as long as Obama fought any sort of battle against Israeli expansion and militarism, his secretary of state was the strength and stamina of his policy. Obama, of course, bore the ultimate responsibility for the policy, but he appears to have been a more hesitant and recessive figure in U.S. dealings with Israel.

About David Bromwich

David Bromwich teaches literature at Yale. He is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and has written on politics and culture for The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and other magazines. He is editor of Edmund Burke's selected writings On Empire, Liberty, and Reform and co-editor of the Yale University Press edition of On Liberty.

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