search

Clinton’s frustrations with ‘f-word’ Netanyahu detailed in new book

Ex-NY Times White House correspondent says secretary declined to visit to Israel in June 2009 to do damage control after Obama’s Cairo trip

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Then prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, right, stands with then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before their meeting in Jerusalem March 3, 2009. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)
Then prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, right, stands with then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before their meeting in Jerusalem March 3, 2009. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv/Flash90)

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton had a good working relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, although she would sometimes prefix references to him with the “f-word,” was sometimes at odds with her president over how to handle Israeli-Palestinian issues, and was seen by some in the White House as acting with a view to her own future bid for president, a new book claims.

“Alter Egos” was written by Mark Landler, a New York Times political correspondent who covered the White House, Clinton, and US President Barack Obama. The book focuses on the period 2009-2013 covering the first Obama administration.

A review of the book published by Haaretz on Wednesday included some of the insights Landler had on the interaction between Clinton and Netanyahu, as well as her relationship with Obama.

Landler writes that although Clinton and Netanyahu were able to work together — she called him by his Hebrew nickname “Bibi” — nonetheless when mentioning the Israeli leader’s name “often it was attached to the f-word.” An exasperated Clinton banged her cellphone against her head in frustration during a call with Netanyahu on the issue of settlement freezes.

Alter Egos by Mark Landler
Alter Egos by Mark Landler

Clinton visited Jerusalem not long after taking up the position of secretary of state, in the wake of the 2009 Israeli elections that installed Netanyahu as prime minister. Landler says she met with then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni and tried to persuade her to accept Netanyahu’s offer to form a national unity government. The aim was to avert the formation of a right-wing government in Israel, which Clinton believed would clash with the new US administration that took office in January of that year. Livni however, rejected the idea because, she told Clinton, Netanyahu’s Likud party would never accept her terms.

Netanyahu went on to form a narrower government, and a key point of friction with the US was securing an Israeli commitment to a settlement freeze as part of Obama’s efforts to restart peace talks with Palestinians.

The-then US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, holds a press conference together with foreign minister at the time Tzipi Livni March 3, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The-then US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, holds a press conference together with then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni March 3, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Landler writes that the Clinton-Netanyahu relationship reached a nadir in 2010 during a lengthy meeting in New York on trying to extend a fruitless 10-month Israeli settlement freeze for another three months. Among the ideas Clinton raised was the early release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. Israel was also offered 20 F-35 stealth fighters worth $3 billion, Landler claims. Clinton, however, was wary that even a three-month extension would not be enough to entice Palestinians to return to direct negotiations. The deal eventually fell through and “with it went any chance for a breakthrough during Clinton’s years as secretary of state,” Landler writes.

Mark Landler (Facebook)
Mark Landler (Facebook)

Middle East policy was to be a source of tension also between Clinton and Obama. Landler claims Clinton declined a White House request to travel to Israel after Obama gave a June 4, 2009, speech in Cairo. The purpose of the intended visit was to prevent any perceived offense to Israel as Obama didn’t stop by in the Jewish state after visiting Egypt. At the time, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel suggested to Clinton that she visit Jerusalem after accompanying Obama to Cairo “to do damage control.” Landler cites a former senior administration official as saying Clinton “couldn’t, wouldn’t, and didn’t.”

Obama officials saw the refusal as motivated by Clinton’s concerns over damaging her image regarding Israel and her relationship to the American Jewish community, Landler asserts. He also notes that the incident was an example of her reluctance to be overly involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to avoid political damage that might hamper a future bid for presidency.

Her standoffish attitude to the peace process even as Obama tried to advance it was to become a point of contention between the two, he writes. During a meeting between Obama and Clinton on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2009, the president “chided her, telling her that she needed to travel to the Middle East more often and that she needed to become more personally involved in steering the process.”

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed