Hillary Clinton’s policy towards Israel over the years
After months of speculation and anticipation, Hillary Clinton finally announced Sunday she is running for president of the United States. Much ink has and will be spilled on her positions in both the domestic and foreign arenas – but in the meantime, Ynet takes a look back at her position regarding Israel.
With her experience as first lady, senator and US Secretary of State, Clinton has countless hours of meetings with Israeli leaders like Rabin, Peres, Barak, and Netanyahu under her belt; and has also been at the forefront of pro-Israel legislation in the Senate. Clinton understands Israel’s complex reality better than most contemporary American politicians – possibly even better than her husband, Bill Clinton.
However, while Clinton is perceived as a long time Israel supporter, there were some controversial moments throughout her career which have cast doubt on the firmness of her position.
First Lady (1993–2001)
One of those instances occurred in 1988, when she joined her husband and then President Bill Clinton for a visit in the Gaza Strip. During their stay, Mrs. Clinton joined Suha Arafat, the widow of Yasser Arafat, for a visit at a kindergarten in the Palestinian territories, where she listened to Arafat openly accuse Israel of fouling the drinking water supply for Palestinians with uranium.
After the remarks, Clinton embraced Arafat and kissed her on the cheeks, a photo that made headlines around the world. Clinton’s official condemnation of Arafat’s remarks was made only on the subsequent day, prompting the left-wing in Israel to accuse her of support of the Palestinians.
In 1999, when Clinton was running for senator, she told Jewish leaders she considers Jerusalem “the eternal and indivisible capital” of Israel – a statement she later partially backtracked on – adding that she will advocate moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In a letter she wrote at the time, she said that “If I am chosen by New Yorkers to be their senator, or in whatever position I find myself in the years to come, you can be sure that I will be an active, committed advocate for a strong and secure Israel, able to live in peace with its neighbors, with the United States Embassy located in its capital, Jerusalem.”
US senator (2001–2009)
Clinton visited Israel again in 2005, this time as a senator. During a trip to the West Bank, she voiced her support of Israel’s separation barrier, saying: “This is not against the Palestinian people. This is against the terrorists. The Palestinian people have to help to prevent terrorism. They have to change the attitudes about terrorism.”
In 2006, Clinton spoke at a pro-Israel rally outside of the United Nations headquarters in New York, and expressed her support for Israel’s retaliation efforts in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. The senator condemned Hamas and Hezbollah, saying: “We are here to show solidarity and support for Israel. We will stand with Israel, because Israel is standing for American values as well as Israeli ones.”
Clinton also condemned Palestinian textbooks, saying they indoctrinate children towards incitement, and fail to provide them with an education.
“I believe that education is one of the keys to lasting peace in the Middle East… there still has not been an adequate repudiation of incitement by the Palestinian Authority. It is even more disturbing that the problem appears to have gotten worse. These textbooks don’t give Palestinian children an education, they give them an indoctrination,” she said.
Secretary of State (2009–2013)
After failing to win the Democratic nomination, losing out to now-President Barack Obama, Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, during which time she attempted to restart peace talks and embraced the standard American position towards Israel, but taking a hard-line against settlements.
Nonetheless, Clinton made it clear in 2009 that a halt on settlement construction in the West Bank was not a pre-condition for the resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“There has never been a pre-condition. It’s always been an issue within the negotiations,” Clinton said about the settlements.
“I want to see both sides as soon as possible begin in negotiations,” said Clinton. “Both president Obama and I are committed to a comprehensive peace agreement.”
In 2011, Clinton made comments showing a shift on her stance on Israel’s capital when she was senator, warning against American action towards recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying that it would jeopardize the peace process.
Also in 2011, Clinton said that the path to a two-state solution creating a Palestinian state beside Israel runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not through New York – a reference to the Palestinians’ attempt to attain statehood through the UN.
Speaking at a news conference at the time, Clinton repeated the US view that the Palestinians should not seek full membership in the United Nations and instead should resume direct talks with the Israelis.
“We need an environment that is conducive to direct negotiations,” she said. “We all know that no matter what happens or doesn’t happen at the UN the next day is not going to result the kind of changes the United States wishes to see that will move us toward the two state solution that we strongly support.”
In 2012, the then Secretary of State reiterated her stance that the Palestinian Authority “took a step in wrong direction” with its UN bid, but also called on Israel to make efforts to advance peace talks.
“America supports the goal of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel but this week’s vote at the UN won’t bring the Palestinians any closer to that goal,” she said. “President Abbas took a step in the wrong direction this week =. We opposed his resolution. But we also need to see that the PA in the West Bank still offers the most compelling alternative to rockets and resistance.
“Israel needs to help those committed to peace,” she added, referring to Abbas and then-Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whom she lauded for their achievements in overhauling institutions in the PA and cooperating with Israel over security.
Speaking at the 2012 Saban Forum, Clinton recalled how late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat rejected then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s peace proposal at Camp David, and how Arafat called her husband, Bill Clinton, years later, after the latter was no longer in office, and asked to accept the deal.
“And Bill says, ‘well, that’s terrific, why don’t you call the White House and tell them that,'” she recounted.
In other comments during that speech, she also warned Israel that it could not use the protection of the Iron Dome as a long-term solution.
“A strong Israeli military is always essential, but no defense is perfect. And over the long run, nothing would do more to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state than comprehensive peace,” Clinton said, attempting to explain that a two-state solution was the only solution for Israel’s future.
Alongside heartfelt conclusions of friendly ties with Israel, Clinton spared no criticism of Israeli diplomacy, saying that nothing will ensure the future of Israel than peace: “Without peace, Israel will be forced to build ever more powerful defenses against ever more dangerous rockets.
“And without peace, the inexorable math of demographics will, one day, force Israelis to choose between preserving their democracy and remaining a Jewish homeland.”
Also in 2012, Clinton said that “protecting Israel’s future is not simply a matter of policy for me, it’s personal. I know with all my heart how important it is that our relation goes from strength to strength. I am looking forward to returning to Israel as a private citizen on a commercial plane.”
In 2013, the Secretary of State delivered a stinging rebuke to Prime Minister Netanyahu for his government’s announcement of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem.
In an interview with CNN, Clinton said the move was “insulting” to the US. “We have to make clear to our Israeli friends and partner that the two-state solution which we support, which the prime minister himself said he supports, requires confidence-building measures on both sides,” she said.
Clinton sat down for another interview with CNN in 2014 in which she criticized Israel’s settlement activity, saying it is her “biggest complaint with the Israeli government.”
“I am a strong supporter of Israel, strong supporter of their right to defend themselves. But the continuing settlements which have been denounced by successive American administrations on both sides of the aisle are clearly a terrible signal to send if at the same time you claim you’re looking for a two-state solution. ”
Later that year, Clinton recapped her years as Secretary of State in an informal farewell party by Israeli American businessman Haim Saban, where she spoke with affection of the State of Israel, saying that defending Israel was not only a policy issue but also a personal one.
“Protecting Israel’s future is not simply a question of policy for me, it’s personal. I’ve talked with some of you I’ve known for a while about the first trip Bill and I took to Israel so many years ago, shortly after our daughter was born.
“And I have seen the great accomplishments,” Clinton added; “the pride of the desert blooming and the start-ups springing up. I’ve held hands with the victims of terrorism in their hospital rooms, visited a bombed-out pizzeria in Jerusalem, walked along the fence near Gilo. And I know with all my heart how important it is that our relationship go from strength to strength.”
In an interview with the Atlantic published in 2014, Clinton offered strong support for Israel and for Netanyahu, after Israel drew international condemnation for the deaths of Palestinian non-combatants in Gaza and the destruction of thousands of homes during its month of war with the Islamist movement Hamas.
“I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to Hamas rockets. Israel has a right to defend itself. The steps Hamas has taken to embed rockets and command and control facilities and tunnel entrances in civilian areas, this makes a response by Israel difficult,” Clinton said.
Questioned about whether Israel has taken enough steps to prevent the deaths of civilians including children, Clinton said the United States also tries to be careful to avoid civilian casualties in war but sometimes mistakes are made.
Iran and US ties
Regarding the nuclear deal with Iran, Clinton echoed Netanyahu, saying she believes that “no deal” with Iran “is better than a bad deal.”
“The onus is on Iran and the bar must be set high,” said Clinton, who helped lay the groundwork for the diplomacy with Iran as Obama first Secretary of State. “There is much to do and much more to say in the months ahead, but for now diplomacy deserves a chance to succeed.”
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