Clinton: US-Israel ties should deepen, intensify

Likely presidential candidate says despite reports of stormy Netanyahu-Obama relations, bilateral cooperation has been ‘extraordinary’

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Saban Forum in Washington on December 5, 2014. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Hillary Clinton speaks at the Saban Forum in Washington on December 5, 2014. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

Former US secretary of state and likely 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Friday that the US must intensify and deepen cooperation with its Middle East partners, particularly Israel.

Dismissing the negative press coverage surrounding tensions between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration, Clinton said that cooperation between Israel and the US over the past six years has been “quite extraordinary.”

“The funding on Iron dome, the funding of other military needs and equipment, the continuing strategic consultation that we’ve been consistently engaged in, no one can argue with the commitment of this administration to Israel’s security,” Clinton declared at the annual Saban Forum in Washington Friday evening.

The Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Obama administration have often gone head to head, sometimes publicly, over a variety of issues, including disagreements over the ongoing talks with Iran on its nuclear program, continued Israeli settlement activity and perceived Israeli intransigence on peace talks.

Some of the differences have deteriorated into exchanges of name-calling between officials, reports of snubbing and other uncommon behavior between allies.

This includes Israeli government accusations over the summer that US Secretary of State John Kerry was engaging in a ”terrorist” attack on Israel by backing a ceasefire agreement with Hamas that had been shaped by its Qatari backers; Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon calling Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic” on the peace process; and an anonymous Obama administration official telling US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that Netanyahu’s behavior on the peace process and on Iran was “chickenshit.”

“Regardless of the political back and forth between two raucous democracies,” Clinton said, US-Israel relations must cooperate more closely.

Her remarks came following the announcement Thursday that Congress passed legislation aimed at deepening ties between the two countries in the fields of defense, energy, R&D, business and academics.

Turning to the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians which collapsed in April after a US-brokered nine-month effort, Clinton said the US and Mideast countries could not just throw up their hands and walk away from efforts to bring the two sides to negotiate an agreement “because you leave a vacuum.”

“There is a necessary imperative to continue to try to achieve a resolution between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Clinton, adding that the Clinton parameters presented by her husband, former president Bill Clinton, were still relevant.

Warning again that the “absence of negotiations leave a vacuum” for extremists and others, she said that “the two-state solution remains an important and essential concept.”

“Efforts that were undertaken in the last several years are very much in the interest of Israel and very much in the interest of the Palestinians,” she said.

Regarding the ongoing negotiations with Iran on its contentious nuclear program, Clinton expressed approval for the international sanctions that were imposed on Tehran for its failure to cooperate.

Talks between Iran and the P5+1 have been extended until next July.

“The international sanctions have had the effect that we’d hoped for on Iran. The extension of the talks will most likely be a period during which the sanctions will hold [until an agreement is reached],” she said.

While she said her view remained one that advocated for no deal rather than a bad deal, “a deal that verifiably closes all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon — the key there is ‘verifiably’ and ‘all’ including covert efforts — that is what is at the center of these negotiations.”

She added that while the nuclear talks were the most important issue the US was facing vis-a-vis Iran, Washington was also concerned about Tehran’s sponsorship of international terrorism and its backing of Syria’s Bashar Assad in the raging civil war in that country and working with its allies on these issues.

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