Hillary: Triangulation on Israel?

The following op-ed by Martin Kramer appears in the Jerusalem Post, November 5, 2007.

Hillary Clinton has published her foreign policy agenda in Foreign Affairs magazine, under the title “Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-First Century.” The one paragraph on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict draws deeply on the notions that “resolving the conflict” should be America’s top priority, that both sides are equally at fault for the “violence,” and that Palestinians need only make promises to earn statehood. The passage strongly suggests that Hillary’s support for Israel is more “triangulated” than many have assumed.

Here is the passage in full:

Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians. The fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000: a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a declaration that the conflict is over, recognition of Israel’s right to exist, guarantees of Israeli security, diplomatic recognition of Israel, and normalization of its relations with Arab states. U.S. diplomacy is critical in helping to resolve this conflict. In addition to facilitating negotiations, we must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace and willing to engage in a dialogue with the Israelis. Whether or not the United States makes progress in helping to broker a final agreement, consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.

THIS IS a carefully crafted paragraph, loaded with allusions and references that the casual reader is likely to miss, but that send a clear signal on the high frequency of the “peace process.” The message is this: a Hillary administration would constantly busy itself with Israeli-Palestinians talks, regardless of their prospects, and would strive to avoid any appearance of partiality–toward Israel.

The hyper-activism is made explicit in the promise of “consistent U.S. involvement,” “whether or not the United States makes progress.”

This is exactly what the US did during the Clinton years, when Yasser Arafat visited the White House 11 times, and met with President Clinton 24 times. Not only did this “consistent involvement” at the highest level not produce any progress, it raised the expectations of Palestinians to an absurd level, leaving them more intransigent and belligerent than they were at the outset.

Obsessive US diplomacy eventually blew up in Washington’s face when Arafat launched a so-called “intifada” against Israel in 2000.

IT IS ALL the more astonishing, then, that Hillary, who witnessed the debacle from up close, thinks “consistent US involvement,” whatever its outcome, will “lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.” She ignores precisely the lesson inflicted upon us by the failed policy of the Clinton administration: If the US obsessively tinkers with this issue without result, it is bound to raise the level of violence and damage our credibility.

In this same sentence, Hillary makes another nod toward the Palestinian position. She imagines that all this busy “involvement” will somehow “reduce violence.” Aside from the probability that it would have the opposite effect, the very choice of the word “violence” evokes the infamous phrase “cycle of violence,” by which Israelis and Palestinians are deemed equally responsible for the bloodshed.

That the Palestinians have deliberately cultivated a culture of terrorism, celebrating suicide bombers, is entirely lost in this formulation. Instead of terrorism, there is only “violence,” which includes both the suicide-bomb dispatchers and the Israeli operations to stop them. By avoiding the word “terrorism,” Hillary adopts a position of studied neutrality.

WHAT HILLARY calls the “fundamental elements of a final agreement” are also carefully tailored to lower the bar for the Palestinians. They are to receive a state in return for a “declaration that the conflict is over,” “recognition of Israel’s right to exist,” and “guarantees of Israeli security” (emphasis added). In other words, Palestinians are not expected to do anything, only issue a surfeit of declarations and promises.

During the Clinton administration, the White House collected a mountain of these Palestinian chits, which turned out to be worthless. Hillary makes no mention whatsoever of Palestinians actually fighting terrorism (not that word!), and says nothing at all about the need for good governance and accountability. In short, she would ask the Palestinians simply to make the sort of promises Arafat made to her husband, as though we had not learned the hard way to demand that Palestinians perform.

In fact, the entire premise of Hillary’s statement is that we can go back to the innocence of 2000, before the crash. She deliberately evokes the legacy of her husband when she writes that the “fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000” (emphasis added), i.e., when Bill Clinton presented his “parameters” at Camp David.

Clear to whom? Arafat rejected them then, Hamas (now far stronger than it was in 2000) has always regarded a final settlement with Israel as anathema, and even Mahmoud Abbas cannot bring himself to make the necessary concessions.

Nor does Hillary consider that perhaps the Palestinians, having chosen to wage war against Israel in 2000, should be made to expect less than what they might have had in 2000. Instead, she implies that the game should be resumed precisely at the point where Arafat walked off the field and began to shoot. The Palestinians did not gain by war, she implies, but certainly they did not lose.

ONE OF THE things they should have lost is any serious consideration of the so-called “right of return” of Palestinian “refugees” (the large majority of whom are descendants of refugees) to Israel proper. President Bush said as much to Mahmoud Abbas at the Akaba summit in 2003, announcing that “a democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state(emphasis added).

The Palestinians insist that they will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, because this effectively negates their “right of return.” Hillary herself, in a statement made in September, said she personally “believes that Israel’s right to exist in safety as a Jewish state… must never be questioned.” Yet Hillary’s formula in the Foreign Affairs piece invites the Palestinians to do just that, asking them simply to “recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

A Palestinian can only read this as an invitation to hold firm to the bogus “right of return” (and hold out against the Bush-Rice diplomatic surge in anticipation of a Hillary administration).

THERE IS another nod to the Palestinians at the top of the passage: “Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians.” This nicely exonerates the Palestinians of responsibility for ditching diplomacy and waging war. Instead, it is the US that must say a mea culpa for allowing itself to be distracted from the cause of Palestine by something as insignificant, in comparison, as the liberation of 27 million Iraqis.

In fact, had the Palestinians, at any moment, shown themselves ready to fight terror and make the compromises necessary for peace, the Bush Administration would have taken up the burden. (Even absent that, President Bush greatly strengthened the US commitment to a Palestinian state.) The sentence seems to be an effort to enlist supporters of a renewed “peace process” behind the quit-Iraq agenda, although it is a mystery how simply “getting out of Iraq,” as opposed to victory in Iraq, would position the US to play a “constructive role” anywhere in the Middle East.

In September, Hillary issued a statement on Israel designed to bolster her standing among pro-Israel voters. Her Foreign Affairs piece, aimed at the wider foreign policy establishment, takes a very different line.

Who is the real Hillary, behind the triangulation? Who knows?

The Foreign Affairs article is intended to be the point of reference for any future Hillary administration. For supporters of Israel, it can only give rise to the most profound misgivings. These are not formulas used by Israel’s friends.

Martin Kramer is Olin Institute senior fellow at Harvard University, and senior Middle East adviser to the presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani. These views are his own.