Clinton: New Israeli Settlement Construction Undermines U.S. Credibility

hillary aipacSpeaking this morning at the 2010 policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the Obama administration’s support for Israel, declaring that, “for President Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid.”

Secretary Clinton also briefly addressed the recent tension between the U.S. and Israel over Israel’s announcement of new Jewish housing in occupied Jerusalem:

New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need. It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit. And it undermines America’s unique ability to play a role — an essential role, I might add — in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.

Clinton’s assertion that praise and criticism of both sides is appropriately expressed in public could be taken as a direct rejoinder to the AIPAC’s new president Lee Rosenberg, who said in a speech yesterday that “allies should work out their differences privately.” This is the usual AIPAC line, and it’s never made much sense to me. Were Israel’s construction of settlements taking place in private, that would be one thing. But it’s not — the settlements, and the resentment and extremism that they help drive, are very public.

Likewise, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s stiff-arming of the Obama administration on a settlement freeze (something to which Israel had previously committed under the road map) was very out in the open, so it makes sense that any U.S. response should be too. The U.S.-Israel relationship is indeed important, but not at the cost of U.S. credibility. And when a smaller partner dictates which parts of past agreements they feel like observing, as Israel continues to do in regard to settlements, U.S. credibility suffers.