Clinton 'Doubted Obama's Policy on Israel'

Zaki Shalom says that Hillary Clinton's ties with centrist Democrats and her doubts about Obama policies bode well for Israel.

Gedalyah Reback ,

Hillary Clinton and Haim Saban at the Saban Forum in November 2012
Hillary Clinton and Haim Saban at the Saban Forum in November 2012
REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

The prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency has many Israeli analysts wondering what will become of the relationship picking up the pieces from Barack Obama. Will those proverbial pieces be thrown in the garbage for good, or will she glue them back together? Despite the fears of many conservative Israelis, there is a sense of optimism from several security and political experts in Jerusalem that Obama’s policies will be an extreme episode in the history of Israeli-American relations, even if there is another Democratic president in his wake.

“Hillary is a very pragmatic person,” says Zaki Shalom, an observer of Israeli-American relations at the Institute for National Security Studies. He illustrates that her perspective on Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians is very, very different than that of Barack Obama.

“I think that the event that would shape her attitude toward Israel is in the first place is the total failure of Obama to move ahead with the peace process.”

Shalom says that the Obama Administration’s approach from the outset was misguided in Clinton’s eyes and hamstrung her in her ability to wage effective policy or mediation between Israel and the Palestinians. As his deputy in the position of Secretary of State, she went along with Obama’s novel approach to place the onus on the Netanyahu government and highlight Israeli settlement construction. Yet, she was wary of the idea from the outset.

“She was with him from the very beginning of his unbalanced peace initiative,” says Shalom, but he adds “there were rumors that she was not in favor of the demand from Israel to freeze all the settlements in 2009 without (at least) giving Israel some reward and without asking the Palestinians to make similar concessions.”

“In fact, when Netanyahu agreed to a freeze of ten months, she was brave enough to say that this was an unprecedented move which no other government in Israel was ready to undertake.” (had ever been?)

That was Mrs. Clinton’s attempt to give the Israelis more credit than they seemed to have warranted in the eyes of President Obama. It was apparently the center of one of the major clashes between the White House and the State Department during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.

“She was severely criticized by the Arabs and Obama’s aides for saying this, but she repeated it at the Saban Forum.”

Clinton herself recalled during that 2012 Saban Forum speech that she was attacked viscerally for her moves at the time, as well as her compliments to Prime Minister Netanyahu:

“And I stood on a stage with him at 11 o’clock . . .  and I said it was unprecedented for any Israeli prime minister to have done that. I got so criticized. I got criticized from the right, the left, the center, Israeli, Jewish, Arab, Christian, you name it. Everybody criticized me. But the fact was it was a 10-month settlement freeze. And he was good to his word. And we couldn’t get the Palestinians into the conversation until the tenth month.”

Haim Saban is a prolific supporter of the Democratic Party, ranked in 2001 as the Democrats' 155th most valuable individual donor by Mother Jones. His politics, he has said, have shifted to the right on security and today he sees no clear solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. Mrs. Clinton’s continued presence at successive Saban Forums as a speaker demonstrates she is very close with Saban, which might make him an influential donor to her campaign in the coming year. In fact, Saban once joked that Clinton should announce her candidacy at his 2014 birthday party as a surprise gift. He was also a donor for her 2008 campaign when she lost the nomination to Barack Obama.

“She is very close to many Israelis and especially to Haim Saban,” emphasizes Shalom. “She does not belong to the liberal faction (of the Democratic Party) of Barack Obama. I think she supports a tougher policy towards Iran.”

Perhaps referencing not only conservative Democrats, Shalom also mentioned “I think she will receive support from many conservative sectors in America.”

Clinton will face a challenge with the recent Iran agreement. It is not clear if she will have any influence over the White House to be more demanding in the final round of negotiations with Iran in the coming months, but it is clear to Shalom would not have invested so much risk into the framework agreement that the recent round of talks produced.

“If she was President, she would not have reached the Lausanne Agreement,” says Shalom.

Shalom is optimistic that despite whatever ill-will the Obama Administration will have over the next couple of years toward Israel, ultimately the next American president will be swayed more by the overall relationship between the two countries rather than the temporary misgivings of a president with a finite term.

“In the end, the US policy towards Israel is determined by the strength and the unity of the Israeli people.”