Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighed in on America’s policy toward Israel in the aftermath of the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, telling a group of Jewish leaders that the United States must work with all sides of the conflict in support of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
According to a press release from Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Clinton told the group via telephone that “we need to all work together to return the special U.S.-Israel relationship to constructive footing, to get back to basic shared concerns and interests, including a two-state solution pursued through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”
The comments, which were first reported by the New York Times, appear to differ from President Barack Obama’s pledge to re-evaluate the United States’ policy toward Israel in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s election-eve claim that he would not work toward the establishment of a Palestinian state during his fourth term as prime minister. They also come as relations between Obama and Netanyahu have deteriorated over disagreements about America’s ongoing negotiations to contain Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, and other issues.
“[W]hat we can’t do is pretend that there’s a possibility of something that’s not there,” Obama said in response to a question about the probability of pursuing a two-state solution through direct negotiations between Netanyahu and the Palestinians, adding, “we can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen at least in the next several years.” Obama’s administration has condemned Netanyahu’s remarks and floated the possibility of pursuing peace through multi-national organizations like the United Nations, despite the prime minister’s efforts to walk back his comments.
But in her newly publicized statements, Clinton appeared to have held her fire against Netanyahu and suggested that she believes she could attain a two-state solution through the bilateral track — a longstanding practice of American policy and one that Clinton herself worked on as Secretary of State.
In fact, as recently as 2014, Clinton seemed to believe that Netanyahu is truly interested in eventually creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, something Obama and most Arab leaders have rejected.
“I really believe that if [Netanyahu] thought he could get adequate security guarantees for a long enough period of time, he would be able to resolve everything with the exception of Jerusalem which is the hardest issue,” Clinton told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in July of 2014. In that interview, she described her relationship with Netanyahu as “very good” and profoundly honest. “[W]e can yell at each other, and we do. And I was often the designated yeller. Something would happen, a new settlement announcement would come and I would call him up, what are you doing? You’ve got to stop this,” she said.
Mara Rudman, a deputy envoy and chief of staff for the Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace at the State Department from 2009 to 2011, confirmed that Clinton herself was “quite intensely involved” in the Obama administration’s effort to restart the peace process and worked closely with former Sen. George Mitchell, who served as Obama’s envoy to the region during that period. She too described Clinton’s relationship with the Israeli prime minister as “good.”
Still, Rudman stressed that any new president will have to re-assess the state of America’s relationship with its international allies and pursue a policy that she or he believes is in the best national security interest of the United States.
“You figure out what you need to do for your country to play out United States interests and in some cases that’s going to involve needing to repair relationships, in some cases that’s going to involve building new relationships, in some cases that’s going to involve just picking up where the last administration, Democrat or Republican, may have left off. It will be a variety of things,” Rudman — who has also served on several presidential transition teams — said during a phone interview with ThinkProgress on Monday morning.
As for Obama’s very public rebuke of Netanyahu, which Clinton has not echoed, Rudman wondered if his strategy does more harm than good to bringing peace to the region. “What I wonder about is what benefit you get from raising the volume high on a public stage and whether that increases your options when you’re the United States or whether it ends up decreasing your options,” she said, adding “I continue to believe there is a route for private diplomacy.” It appears that Clinton agrees.