Starkly differentiating herself from the Obama administration in which she once served, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton lambasted the Palestinians for failing to seize past opportunities for peace with Israel, and said she had a “long memory” of Palestinian inaction on the peace front. Asked in an interview whether it was fair for the US administration and mainstream US media to primarily blame Israel for the failure of peace efforts, Clinton was categorical: “No, it’s not accurate or fair or useful.”
The former secretary of state, who did not directly criticize the president or even mention him by name, was speaking in a telephone interview with the New York Jewish Week, conducted on Friday and published on Tuesday. New York holds potentially critical primaries on April 19.
Further distancing herself from Obama, who has had a famously strained relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton said she and the prime minister “get along well,” and promised that the inevitable differences between the two allied countries — she is a perennial critic of the “unhelpful” settlement enterprise — would be handled “quickly, respectfully and responsibly” if she were elected president.
Recalling the 10-month freeze on settlement building imposed by Netanyahu in 2009-2010, when she was secretary of state, Clinton slammed the Palestinians for failing to capitalize on that opportunity for progress. “I regret very much that the Palestinians didn’t take advantage,” she said. “The Palestinians couldn’t act.”
She recalled, too, that the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat “walked away” from the 2000 Camp David summit hosted by her husband, then-president Bill Clinton. “It was one of the most comprehensive efforts” to resolve the conflict, she noted.
In a subsequent email, the New York Jewish Week reported, Clinton stressed the need to maintain “the hope of peace,” and highlighted an imperative “to leverage the converging interests between Israel and Arab states to move forward together toward a two-state vision of a Jewish and democratic Israel with secure and recognized borders.”
More personally, in the telephone interview, Clinton stressed that her commitment to Israel is “not just policy; it’s personal.” She said she had worked throughout her career “to further the relationship” and “enhance Israel’s security.” Echoing a sentiment she expressed in a speech to the AIPAC policy conference last month, she promised as president to elevate ties “to the next level.”
While some in Israel are concerned that the Obama administration may not veto new efforts by the Palestinians to push a resolution critical of Israel through the UN Security Council, Clinton was adamant in her opposition to imposed UN resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The United Nations is not the venue” for such efforts, she said, citing its “terrible track record in addressing these issues.” The Israelis and Palestinians, she made clear, must resolve their differences in direct talks.
(In a speech at the Washington Institute shortly after the latest US-led effort at peace-making broke down in 2014, Obama’s special envoy Martin Indyk criticized both sides for the failed peace talks. At around the same time, a Yedioth Ahronoth feature, reportedly based on a briefing by Indyk, quoted unnamed US officials offering a withering assessment of Netanyahu’s handling of the negotiations, and warned Israel that the Palestinians will achieve statehood come what may — either via international organizations or through violence. The officials highlighted Netanyahu’s ongoing settlement construction as the issue “largely to blame” for the failure of the 2013-2014 effort to broker a permanent accord.)
On the Iran nuclear deal, Clinton said she would “use every tool for compliance,” and argued that “Iran should be sanctioned” for its latest ballistic missile tests.
In an email exchange that followed the interview, in which she was asked about differentiating anti-Israel and anti-Semitic behavior by BDS activists, Clinton wrote: “Demonizing Israeli scientists and intellectuals, even students, and comparing Israel to South African apartheid is not only wrong — it is dangerous and counterproductive.” Such language that “vilifies Israelis has no place in any civilized society,” she added.
Clinton had little to say in the interview about her Jewish rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, who has made headlines in recent weeks for staying away from AIPAC (the only candidate from either party to do so), castigating Israel’s ostensible “indiscriminate” military actions in Gaza, and inflating the Gaza civilian death toll. Said Clinton briskly, “His comments will have to be read and evaluated by readers.”