Former US secretary of state and potential presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a staunch defense of Israel over its conduct of the war against Hamas, placed full ultimate responsibility on Hamas for the deaths of children and other innocent people, and defended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on maintaining security control in the West Bank in the next few years.
In an interview published Sunday by Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic, she also urged an “overarching” US strategy to confront Islamic terrorism, equating this struggle to the one the US waged against communism.
She spoke of the “failure” that arose from the Obama administration’s decision not to aid the initial uprising against Syria’s President Bashar Assad, which created a vacuum now filled by jihadists.
And overall, she indicated that she considered President Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy to be too cautious. Responding to Obama’s self-described foreign policy doctrine of: “Don’t do stupid shit,” Clinton, who served as his top diplomat for four years between 2009 and 2013, said: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
Goldberg judged that Clinton indicated that she does intend to run for the presidency when, after he said to her that he felt the US, on balance, has done a good job of advancing the cause of freedom, she responded: “That’s how I feel! Maybe this is old-fashioned… I’m about to find out, in more ways than one.”
On the current conflict against Hamas in Gaza, Clinton said she was “not surprised that Hamas provoked another attack.”
Asked if the Israeli response was disproportionate, she replied: “Israel was attacked by rockets from Gaza. Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command-and-control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult. Of course Israel, just like the United States, or any other democratic country, should do everything they can possibly do to limit civilian casualties. We see this enormous international reaction against Israel. This reaction is uncalled for and unfair.”
Pressed on whether Israel was doing enough to limit civilian casualties, she answered: “It’s unclear. I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to the rockets. And there is the surprising number and complexity of the tunnels, and Hamas has consistently, not just in this conflict, but in the past, been less than protective of their civilians.”
She said anti-Semitism was a factor in the unfair international reaction against Israel: “There are a number of factors going into it. You can’t ever discount anti-Semitism, especially with what’s going on in Europe today. There are more demonstrations against Israel by an exponential amount than there are against Russia seizing part of Ukraine and shooting down a civilian airliner. So there’s something else at work here than what you see on TV.”
She said the conflict was “so effectively stage-managed by Hamas, and always has been. What you see is largely what Hamas invites and permits Western journalists to report on from Gaza. It’s the old PR problem that Israel has. Yes, there are substantive, deep levels of antagonism or anti-Semitism towards Israel, because it’s a powerful state, a really effective military. And Hamas paints itself as the defender of the rights of the Palestinians to have their own state. So the PR battle is one that is historically tilted against Israel.”
Conflict ‘so effectively stage-managed by Hamas… What you see is largely what Hamas invites and permits Western journalists to report on from Gaza’
Clinton said the deaths of so many children were “dreadful.” Asked to parcel out blame, she said: “I’m not sure it’s possible to parcel out blame because it’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war. Some reports say, maybe it wasn’t the exact UN school that was bombed, but it was the annex to the school next door where they were firing the rockets. And I do think oftentimes that the anguish you are privy to because of the coverage, and the women and the children and all the rest of that, makes it very difficult to sort through to get to the truth.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict and wanted to do so in order to leverage its position, having been shut out by the Egyptians post-Morsi, having been shunned by the Gulf, having been pulled into a technocratic government with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority that might have caused better governance and a greater willingness on the part of the people of Gaza to move away from tolerating Hamas in their midst. So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.”
She added: “That doesn’t mean that, just as we try to do in the United States and be as careful as possible in going after targets to avoid civilians, that there aren’t mistakes that are made. We’ve made them. I don’t know a nation, no matter what its values are—and I think that democratic nations have demonstrably better values in a conflict position—that hasn’t made errors, but ultimately the responsibility rests with Hamas.”
Shifting to a focus on Netanyahu, Clinton said she has seen the prime minister “move from being against the two-state solution to announcing his support for it,” and issued a ringing endorsement for his demand for security control over the West Bank for at least the next few years — a demand that some have read as signalling the end of a two-state solution.
In Goldberg’s assessment, “Clinton seemed to take an indirect shot at administration critics of Netanyahu, who has argued that the rise of Muslim fundamentalism in the Middle East means that Israel cannot, in the foreseeable future, withdraw its forces from much of the West Bank.”
Said Clinton: “So what I tell people is, yeah, if I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have control over security [on the West Bank], because even if I’m dealing with [PA President] Abbas, who is 79 years old, and other members of Fatah, who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things, that does not protect Israel from the influx of Hamas or cross-border attacks from anywhere else. With Syria and Iraq, it is all one big threat. So Netanyahu could not do this in good conscience…”
In her meetings, Clinton said, “I got Abbas to about six, seven, eight years on continued IDF presence. Now he’s fallen back to three, but he was with me at six, seven, eight. I got Netanyahu to go from forever to 2025. That’s a negotiation, okay? So I know. Dealing with Bibi is not easy, so people get frustrated and they lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve here.”
She also stressed that she “would not put Hamas in the category of people we could work with. I don’t think that is realistic because its whole reason for being is resistance against Israel, destruction of Israel, and it is married to very nasty tactics and ideologies, including virulent anti-Semitism. I do not think they should be in any way treated as a legitimate interlocutor, especially because if you do that, it redounds to the disadvantage of the Palestinian Authority, which has a lot of problems, but historically has changed its charter, moved away from the kind of guerrilla resistance movement of previous decades.”
On Iran, noted Goldberg, Clinton also struck a notably hard line, saying. “I’ve always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment. Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out.”
Asked if Israel’s demand that Iran not be allowed any uranium-enrichment capability whatsoever was militant or unrealistic, she said, “I think it’s important that they stake out that position.”