Hillary Clinton and Tzipi Livni in March 2009 visit
Hillary Clinton and Tzipi Livni in March 2009 visit Olivier Fitoussi/Flash 90

A new book reveals that back in 2009, during Hillary Clinton's first visit to Israel as US Secretary of State which came around a month after Israeli general elections, she tried unsuccessfully to press then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni into a unity government so as to avoid a right-wing coalition.

The revelation comes from the book "Alter Egos" by Mark Landler, a New York Times political correspondent, reports Haaretz on Wednesday. Landler covered Clinton, who currently is the Democratic presidential frontrunner, before covering the White House and US President Barack Obama.

Livni's Kadima party got 29 seats in the 2009 election, but despite only getting 28 mandates Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud was given first crack at forming a coalition government given his better likelihood of putting together a majority coalition.

Netanyahu proposed a national unity government to Livni, but despite that and despite Clinton's pressure, Livni at the time refused to join - even though she later did so in the 2013 elections with her new Hatnua party, before staging a "putsch" with Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid that led Netanyahu to disband the government.

The new book focuses on Clinton and Obama's relationship from 2009 to 2013, and also addresses the growing tensions with Israel under Obama's watch as well as failed attempts to force ahead the peace process.

Clinton's opposition to an Israeli right-wing government

Clinton visited in March 2009, at a time when Livni was still in her post as Foreign Minister and was holding coalition talks with Netanyahu.

According to Landler, Clinton wanted Livni to join a unity government so as to prevent a right-wing government in Israel that might not get along with Obama's new administration.

In a private meeting between the two, Livni refused Clinton's pressure, saying Likud would never accept her demands for being part of the government, according to the new book.

Another revelation in the book exposes that Clinton refused a request by the White House to fly to Israel for "damage control" after Obama's infamous Cairo speech on June 4, 2009, in which he criticized Israel at an event attended by Muslim Brotherhood members.

Mere days before the speech White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel said to Clinton that Obama's decision not to visit Israel after his Cairo speech may insult Jerusalem, and therefore he asked Clinton who was in Cairo with Obama to go on to Israel "to do damage control."

But Landler quoted a former senior administration official who said "she couldn't, wouldn't and didn't."

Obama's senior advisers were furious at her refusal, according to the book, accusing her of trying to avoid harming her image as a friend of Israel.

Landler writes that the refusal was a clear example of her desire to distance herself from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict out of fear it would hurt her chances in a future presidential bid.

Clinton's push for a "settlement freeze"

Tensions rose in 2009 between Clinton and Obama over her unwillingness to get involved in his efforts to force peace talks on Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Those tensions spilled over on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2009, shortly after Obama, Netanyahu and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met.

Obama "chided her, telling her that she needed to travel to the Middle East more often and that she needed to become more personally involved in steering the process" instead of leaving the matter to special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, reveals Landler.

The gap between the two continued as Clinton held doubts over Obama's demand in 2009 that Netanyahu freeze construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem completely, reasoning that doing so would not be an effective way to force more concessions from Netanyahu.

But nevertheless she tried to press Netanyahu to agree to the freeze as Secretary of State.

In Netanyahu's first visit after forming a government in May 2009, during a State Department dinner in Washington, Clinton told Netanyahu that the construction freeze was very important to Obama, reports Landler.

He noted that a witness said Netanyahu replied, "I can't do that."

Then a week later, Clinton condemned the "settlements," and said Obama demanded a total freeze, even as talks were ongoing between Mitchell and the Israeli government for a deal allowing construction in the large blocs of Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, accommodating natural growth only.

According to Landler, Clinton's statements derailed the talks on a deal, angering the Israelis even as Obama's advisers were annoyed that she "plussed up" his position to encompass a complete freeze.

Netanyahu soon afterwards folded and implemented a construction freeze in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, and later on implemented a covert freeze during the 2013-2014 peace talks even though he publicly chose to release Arab terrorists as a "gesture" instead of the freeze.

A full 78 terrorists went free during the talks that were eventually torpedoed by the PA as it signed a unity deal with Hamas, and the near-total construction freeze remains ongoing.

"F***ing Bibi"

According to Landler's book, Clinton and Netanyahu generally got along during her stint as Secretary of State, although there was plenty of tension.

While she called him by his nickname Bibi, "often it was attached to the f-word," he wrote. 

During one of their conversations amid talks on the construction freezes, Clinton silently started knocking her cellphone against her head in a sign of frustration.

Landler reveals that a peak tension point in the relationship between the two came in an eight-hour meeting in November 2010 at New York's Regency Hotel, in which they worked on a formula to extend the construction freeze for another three months.

Clinton raised a number of suggestions, even including the early release of Jonathan Pollard, but Netanyahu contested every detail and made a hard bargain according to the book.

The US also proposed providing 20 F-35 stealth fighter jets worth $3 billion to Israel in order to extend the freeze, although Clinton was afraid that even if the deal went through it would not lead the PA to direct negotiations.

According to Landler, she told then special Middle East envoy of the Quartet Tony Blair that "she found the whole exercise a nasty business."

Several weeks later the deal collapsed as Israel's cabinet rejected the construction freeze extension, and "with it went any chance for a breakthrough during Clinton’s years as secretary of state," according to Landler.