Hillary More Attached to Israel, says Analyst

White House vet says Clinton has a very different perspective on Israel from Barack Obama's.

Gedalyah Reback ,

Democratic Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton
Democratic Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton

For part one of this interview, click here.

Is Hillary Clinton good for Israel? The centrifuges of questions have begun to spin as it were for Campaign 2016 in the United States, with both parties yet to nominate new figureheads as they try to replace the embattled Obama Administration.

For American Jews and Israel, the big question is if the next administration – whether Democrat or Republican – will feel a freer atmosphere to criticize Israel and undermine the historically “special relationship” between the two countries, or whether it will seek to undo the damage wrought by an often downright antagonistic Obama administraction.

Aaron David Miller is no stranger to the Clintons. During Bill Clinton’s administration, he was a quintessential player in Washington’s efforts to mediate between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He has personally worked with Hillary Clinton in the past, and expects that if she does win the presidency in 2016, she can turn over a new leaf with Israel.

“I can tell you from personal experience with her that there is no Clinton 2.0,” says Miller, who is Vice President for New Initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Her husband was profoundly attached to the idea of Israel” when he was occupying the White House. In addition, “he (Bill Clinton) writes in his memoirs that he loved Rabin like no other man.”

The Clintons have a set political philosophy, explains Miller, where the narrative of Israel’s embattled position in the region is embedded in their foreign policy outlook.

“She has all of the tropes and narratives. Obama grew up with a post-80s view of Israel. I’m not saying he’s an enemy but he doesn’t have the emotional attachment to Israel. I think her feelings are genuine and she’s not prone to fights with the Israelis. She was very uncomfortable with the President's settlement policy and didn’t like being the bad cop.

"She refers to Bibi as friend and partner – that doesn’t mean there wasn’t frustration," he adds, but "she isn’t Obama and she wouldn't be Obama."

Clinton recently spoke with Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, saying “we must ensure that Israel never becomes a partisan issue.”

But could Obama have opened the door for a more critical American stance toward Israel (and, consequently, an ultimate erosion of the “special relationship” between Jerusalem and Washington)? When asked if Clinton’s statements were themselves electioneering, Miller did not think her words were a calculated, political “ploy.”

“The US and Israel are going through a very stormy patch for which both sides are responsible. But Hillary doesn’t see much merit in hammering the Israelis for no rhyme nor reason.”

“The outreach to Malcom Hoenlein was trying to stake out some separation from the president,” says Miller. “She is not running against the president – that would be political suicide. She needs him in the general election with Hispanics and African-Americans.”

“With Obama, I think we may have reached the limit to what he can pile on – it’s hurting the admin and hurting the relationship.”

If the public fighting has been so damaging, why has it gone on this long are gone so far? When asked by Arutz Sheva if the animosity could be measured as more personal or more rooted in policy differences, Miller says it is definitely both.

“I think it is frustration and genuine anger with the Boehner business. What the president said about the prime minister's comments about Israeli Arabs were essentially unprecedented – to criticize a sitting Prime Minister on comments he made about his own citizens. Forget the walk back on the Two State Solution.”

“For him to walk away from it in the middle of a campaign to mobilize voters was hardly a shocker,” says Miller, chalking Netanyahu’s words at least partially up to campaign rhetoric. Of the Obama Administration, Miller asserts, “They overdid it.”

“The biggest myth is that we don’t intervene in Israeli politics and that they don’t intervene in ours. I have seen other situations and neither of them were as raw as this was.”

Regardless, Miller says he always emphasizes how resilient the relationship is time and time again. While some have begun to question that notion, and he warns there is merit to advising against abusing the relationship, it is much bigger than any one president or prime minister.

“They used to say the Lehmann brothers were too big to fail,” referring to one of the major brokerages that collapsed during the 2008 Financial Crisis. “Even I began to worry about the relationship. It is happening – the Republicans are siding with Likud and Democrats in the main are looking at Israeli politics with leftist-centrist view. It’s not good.”

“That is a consequence of a strongly held position and risk-ready Israeli Prime Minister who is prepared to intercede and mobilize Congress to undermine an Obama Administration policy. The Obama Administration then took that and widened it and kind of solidified it. Both sides need to back off of it. It's very dangerous for the relationship. I take a very sanguine view on the US-Israel relationship, but neither side can afford to take it for granted.”

Is that Clinton’s challenge going forward? When asked by Arutz Sheva, Miller predicted her immediate move would be to stabilize things before trying to advance it.

“Assuming Hillary wins, she'd want to contain that and re-center it.” 

Would that effort be inhibited by a similar agenda that another Democratic White House might pursue? It likely depends on the issue according to Miller. Clearly, the Israeli-Palestinian issue was not resolved with an aggressive tone toward the Israelis.

What is critical though is that Hillary Clinton would be starting off her presidency with a very different set of assumptions than Barack Obama did. That would be partially due to Clinton’s different ideological background on the one hand, and developments in the region since 2009 on the other.

“I think the difference is you won’t have a president who starts life frustrated with the Israelis, who somehow believes you need to pursue a peace process where there might not be basis for one.”

Comparing the Obama-Netanyahu relationship with previous presidential-prime ministerial fights, Miller says what characterizes this one besides its depth is its apparent fruitlessness.

“I’m not predicting some kind of resurrection in the relationship. It would be less contentious and more pragmatic and less of a soap opera,” says Miller. “Carter and Begin; Bush and Shamir; Netanyahu and Clinton were productive relationships. This is dysfunction without production.”