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She won't hesistate to yell at Netanyahu

November 24, 2016 23:18

In a CNN interview two years ago, Hillary Clinton, then former Secretary of State, today the Democratic candidate for President of the United States, characterised her relationship with Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu as "very good".

This, she explained, was "because we can yell at each other, and we do. And I was often the designated yeller".

Those familiar with the ties between Israel's prime minister and the woman who may be America's next president agree with the yelling part. In 2010, following a visit to Jerusalem by Vice President Joe Biden that was marred by the news of new settlement building, Mrs Clinton called Mr Netanyahu for a 43-minute conversation that included mainly yelling.

There is little love for the prime minister in Mrs Clinton's circle of advisers and close friends, many of whom have been with her since her days as First Lady. Mr Netanyahu is widely seen as the man who did everything he could to ruin the key diplomatic initiatives of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the Oslo Accords, and the nuclear agreement with Iran.

This antipathy is tempered however by two factors. Ms Clinton is a careful pragmatist, she can yell at Mr Netanyahu but also recognises that as long as he leads Israel - and he has no intention of leaving a minute before he is forced out - she needs to work with him. The other factor is that despite her attempts to project a more progressive image in the bruising primaries contest against Bernie Sanders, Mrs Clinton is an establishment politician, and is not going to change.

She wants to succeed where her husband failed

Her political career has prospered within the mainstream Democratic Party, which is still staunchly pro-Israel. Many of her main allies and supporters are Jewish and while they tend not to be pro-Netanyahu, they would be dismayed to see the open rift between the two countries' leaders during the Obama years remain under their friend Hillary. She has been quick to assure them that in the first month of her presidency, an invitation to the White House will be sent to Israel's prime minister.

Alon Pinkas, a former senior Israeli diplomat, who served as Consul-General in New York, explained: "It's true that the milieu around her and Bill don't like Netanyahu and believe that they can't trust him, but ultimately she wants to stick to the old formula of a two-state solution and won't try and change the paradigms. If she believes there is a creative way to reach that solution, she will go for it and if Netanyahu is seen as trying to obstruct her, he will miss Obama."

The conflict with the Palestinians is not the only issue on which a new administration can affect Israel's security. During her four years as Secretary of State and in interviews she has given since, Mrs Clinton has appeared critical of what is widely seen as a lower-profile American involvement in the Middle East. Israeli officials are hopeful that as president she would prove more forceful in dealing with Islamic extremism, the ongoing war in Syria and Iran's growing regional influence. While Mr Obama's relations with traditional American allies in the region has often been frosty, the next Democrat president is expected to revert to a more friendly alliance.

Ultimately, the relationship between a second President Clinton and the Israeli government could be a result of the particular combination of challenges facing the next administration in Washington.

Assuming she wins in November, Mrs Clinton would return to the White House at the age of 69, relatively old for a new president, but with a keen understanding of the limitations of the most powerful job in the world. No previous president will have had her experience in the engine room of the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process.

A ruthless pragmatist, she will want to succeed where her husband and other predecessors failed and deliver the elusive peace deal. If she believes she can do it, her administration's efforts will focus on that goal, and the relationship with Mr Netanyahu, or his successor, is likely to be difficult.

But she is likely to conclude that her chances of success are no greater than other presidents', and while paying lip service to the "peace process", will pursue a policy of "managing the conflict". In such an outcome, whatever their personal feelings for each other, she will get on just fine with Israel's prime minister.

November 24, 2016 23:18

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