Netanyahu prefers Clinton to Obama administration, leaked email suggests
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Netanyahu prefers Clinton to Obama administration, leaked email suggests

2015 correspondence quotes Israeli official saying PM thinks Democratic candidate ‘is more instinctively sympathetic to Israel than the White House’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Democratic president candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York, September 25, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Democratic president candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York, September 25, 2016 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers the stance on Israel of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to that of the current US administration, with one senior Israeli official saying Netanyahu feels Clinton is “more instinctively sympathetic to Israel than the White House,” according to a leaked email released by WikiLeaks.

In correspondence dated December 2015, Stuart Eizenstat, a former US diplomat and close associate of the Clintons, describes to Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta and top aide Jake Sullivan a meeting he had with “a senior Israeli official who is very close to the Prime Minister, and knows his thinking,” detailing at length a number of key positions on the Israel-US relationship held by Netanyahu.

The WikiLeaks organization on Friday posted what it said were thousands of emails obtained in a hack of the Clinton campaign chairman’s personal email account.

In his email, Eizenstat said the Israeli official told him that Netanyahu’s relationship with Clinton is far from how it has often been portrayed in both the Israeli and US media.

Stuart Eizenstat. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Stuart Eizenstat. (Courtesy)

“The Prime Minister always had a ‘surprising good relationship’ with Hillary. ‘She is easy to work with’, and… she is more instinctively sympathetic to Israel than the White House,” he wrote. “Even during their famous 43 minute phone call, when he felt like slamming down the phone, he felt she was simply heavily scripted and reading from points prepared by the White House.”

Eizenstat was referring to a dispute in 2010 when US President Barack Obama tasked then-secretary of state Clinton with telephoning Netanyahu to berate him for a planning committee’s approval of new housing in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, which lies over the pre-1967 Green Line, announced during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.

Netanyahu had apologized for the timing of the decision — Biden had accepted the apology — but Clinton was then dispatched to reopen the dispute. The content of their phone conversation, including the secretary’s devastating accusation that the dispute raised questions about Israel’s commitment to its relationship with the United States, was promptly leaked to the US media.

In her most recent autobiography, “Hard Choices,” Clinton described the call, saying she “didn’t enjoy playing the bad cop, but it was part of the job.” On her relationship with the Israeli prime minister, she wrote ambivalently, “I had known Netanyahu for years. He is a complicated figure.”

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Israel on November 20, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO via Getty Images)
Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Israel on November 20, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO via Getty Images)

But despite Netanyahu’s favorable view of Clinton, at least in comparison to the current Obama administration, the prime minister had reservations about how she, as president, would treat Israel, Eizenstat said the offical told him.

“He attended part of the Saban Forum and felt that most of the emphasis was on the Palestinian issue, and wonders if a Clinton Administration ‘will be a Saban Forum for four years’, due to ‘the people around her, but not her,'” the email reads. “Her own speech was “95% good, although there was some moral equivalence language.”

In that speech in December 2015, given to the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, Clinton said that on her first day in office as president she would reach out to the Israeli prime minister and invite him to the White House in an effort to strengthen US-Israel ties.

Se also stressed that “only a two-state solution can provide Palestinians independence, sovereignty and dignity and provide Israelis the secure and recognized borders of a democratic Jewish state.”

“Inaction is not an option and a one-state solution is no solution, it is a prescription for endless conflict,” she said, echoing Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments a day earlier.

“Everyone has to do their part to create the conditions for progress by taking positive actions that can rebuild trust and by avoiding damaging actions including with respect to settlements,” she said. “At the same time, we should oppose any unilateral action at the United Nations.”

Former secretary of state and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton addresses the Saban Forum in Washington DC, December 6, 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Former secretary of state and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton addresses the Saban Forum in Washington DC, December 6, 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Clinton, in her address, also criticized Israeli leaders who have suggested that current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not a viable partner for a peace deal. “It is unfortunate [Abbas] has been marginalized when there is in effect no better alternative… especially when the alternative could be the black flag of ISIS,” she admonished.

The email does not go into any more detail on Clinton and Netanyahu’s relationship but does include numerous references to how the prime minister views Obama, and Israel-US relations under his administration.

On the recently signed 10-year military aid package, being negotiated at the time the email was sent, the senior Israeli official said Netanyahu felt that “if the figure is too low, they will wait until the next President.”

Finally signed last month, the new military package will grant Israel $3.8 billion annually — up from the $3 billion pledged under the previous 10-year Memorandum of Understanding — starting in 2018 and through 2028. While the deal is the largest amount of money ever given by the US to a foreign country, some critics of Netanyahu, including former prime minister Ehud Barak, have blamed him for reaching an aid package ostensibly smaller than originally expected.

The signing of the US-Israel military aid deal in the State Department on September 14, 2016 (Israeli Embassy, Washington)
The signing of the US-Israel military aid deal in the State Department on September 14, 2016 (Israeli Embassy, Washington)

Before the deal was signed, a senior adviser to Donald Trump said that Netanyahu should wait for the Republican presidential nominee to win the White House before signing a military aid deal with Washington, because Trump would offer a better deal than the Obama administration.

In his email, Eizenstat said he and the unnamed Israeli figure also discussed “possible economic initiatives to help the Palestinians,” adding that “the Prime Minister is genuinely interested in doing positive things on the ground,” but that is being prevented by a number of complications, including “a new UN Resolution, which Secretary Kerry continues to seek” and the fact that “the Obama Administration will not agree to any settlement activity, even in areas like Gilo” (a Jewish neighborhood in an area of southern Jerusalem captured by Israel in 1967 and annexed).

Kerry reportedly told Netanyahu over the weekend that the Obama administration has not yet made a decision on whether to back a UN Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the November presidential elections.

In a phone conversation on Saturday night, Netanyahu told Kerry he expects that the US will not support any diplomatic measures at the UN that are carried out without Israel’s consent, Haaretz newspaper reported. The prime minister also reiterated statements he made in a speech to the UN General Assembly last month, in which he said “peace will not come from statements and resolutions at the United Nations.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US President Barack Obama in New York, on September 21, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US President Barack Obama in New York, on September 21, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Members of the Israeli government are worried that before leaving office in January but after his successor is chosen, Obama may seek to impose or advance a solution to the conflict, or at least set out parameters for how it should be solved. These measures would include the Security Council, where the US would decide against using the veto granted to it as a permanent member of the Security Council for any anti-Israel resolutions.

The phone conversation between Kerry and Netanyahu came amid a tussle between Israel and the US following Israeli approval last week of construction of new settlement housing units for the homeowners of the illegal outpost of Amona ahead of its court-ordered evacuation. The plan calls for two phases of construction, with a further 200 units to be approved after a first round of 98 homes is completed.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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