A new batch of emails released Friday to and from Hillary Clinton show that the then-secretary of state was advised in 2009 to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into restarting peace talks with the Palestinians by making “his politics uneasy.”
In September of that year, Clinton took counsel from her husband’s former national security adviser Sandy Berger on how best to handle Netanyahu on the stagnant peace process.
Berger, who served as former president Bill Clinton’s security adviser from 1997 to 2001, told Hillary Clinton that she should take advantage of Israel’s discomfort at the prospect of a hostile American administration to press her case.
In an email dated September 22, 2009 and entitled “Bibi/Abu Mazen” — Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ respective commonly used monikers — Berger advised Clinton that the public debate should shift “from settlement freeze to final status.”
“Going forward, if Bibi continues to be the obstacle, you will need to find the ground from which you can make his politics uneasy,” Berger wrote. “I think you can do that even with current concerns in Israel about US posture.”
Berger also recommended that Clinton should “be mindful of Abu Mazen’s politics,” saying that he was “[t]aking a lot of criticism for meeting with Bibi without settlement freeze.”
In another email three days earlier, Berger wrote: “The objective is to try shift the fulcrum of our current relations with Bibi from settlements — where he thinks he has the upper hand — to ground where there is greater understanding in Israel of the American position and where we can make him uneasy about incurring our displeasure… Ironically, his intransigence over 67 borders may offer us that possibility to turn his position against him.”
Berger also suggested sending then-Middle East envoy Gorge Mitchell back to the region in an effort to find “a common basis to relaunch negotiations.”
Berger wrote: “This includes: a safe, secure and recognized Israel living side by side in peace with a safe, secure and sovereign Palestine and an end to the occupation that began in 1967. This 67 formulation was used in the Road Map, by Bush, Sharon and Olmert.”
The former security adviser was referencing the 2004 road map promoted by the Bush administration and agreed with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, and Sharon’s deputy and later his successor Ehud Olmert.
Berger also suggested that Netanyahu’s political opposition to the pre-1967 borders as a basis for territorial negotiations would cast the prime minister in the role of peace rejectionist.
“Assuming Bibi will accept no formulation that includes 67 borders, it suggests that Bibi is the obstacle to progress and backtracking on his part on an issue that previous Israeli governments have accepted. It begins shifting the discussion from settlements to the more fundamental issue of ultimate territorial outcome,” Berger wrote.
In November 2009, Netanyahu announced in a press conference from Jerusalem that Israel was embarking on a limited 10-month settlement freeze, as a gesture to kick-start peace talks. The freeze covered new building permits and the construction of new residential buildings in the West Bank.
“We hope that this decision will help launch meaningful negotiations to reach an historic peace agreement that will finally end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” the prime minister said, adding that he hoped the Palestinians would “take full advantage” of the opportunity to restart talks during that time.
The Friday release brings the volume of emails publicly released by the State Department to roughly 12 percent of the 55,000 pages Clinton had turned over to department lawyers earlier this year. That falls short of the 15% goal set by a court ruling in May, a lag the State Department attributed to interest by the inspector general of the US intelligence community in the possible compromise of classified information.
The emails released Friday raised new questions about Clinton’s stated reason for routing all her work-related emails through a private server. On several occasions, Clinton received messages not only at her home email server — firstname.lastname@example.org — but also on a BlackBerry email account through her cellphone provider.
In March, a Clinton spokesman said the only reason Clinton had her own account is because she “wanted the simplicity of using one device” and “opted to use her personal email account as a matter of convenience.”
There was no indication from emails released so far that Clinton’s home computer system used encryption software that would have protected her communications from the prying eyes of foreign spies, hackers or any other interested parties on the Internet.
Current and former intelligence officials have said they assume the emails were intercepted by foreign intelligence services.
Earlier this year, a district court judge mandated that the agency release batches of Clinton’s private correspondence from her time as secretary of state every 30 days starting June 30.
The regular releases of Clinton’s correspondence all but guarantee a slow drip of revelations from the emails throughout the Democratic presidential primary campaign, complicating her efforts to put the issue to rest. The goal is for the department to publicly unveil all 55,000 pages of her emails by Jan. 29, 2016 — just three days before Iowa caucus-goers cast the first votes in the Democratic primary contest.