Secretary Clinton and Israel-Palestine

Growing reports that Hillary Clinton will become President Obama’s Secretary of State naturally raise questions of how she will do the job and what perspectives she brings to it. Among the hottest areas of speculation are how Secretary Hillary Clinton would deal with the Israeli-Palestiniant peace process, which is sure to be one of the new administration’s priority items.

This is, of course, a very emotional issue that does not bring out the objective best in analysts. The apparent Arab view is that as junior senator from New York (and thus reliant on the Empire State’s Jewish vote), Senator Clinton has so bought into the pro-Israeli position that she cannot be an honest broker in the process. At the other extreme are fears that her espounsal of support for a Palestinian state means she may be willing to compromise vital Jewish survival interests. Who is right?

Part of the problem is the extreme emotionalism surrounding the analysis. Take the idea of being “pro-Israeli.” For the last eight years, pro-Israeli has effectively meant being pro-Likud, supporting that Israeli political party’s intractable position of not negotiating with the Palestinians while pursuing an aggressive settlement policy on the West Bank that, with nearly 400,000 Israelis now living in what is supposed to become Palestine, essentially precludes the practical possibility of a two-state solution (sovereign Israel and sovereign Palestine). Likud does not, of course, admit that it is opposed to a Palestinian state publicly, but that is the effect of its policies.

If there is no two-state solution, that leaves only a one-state solution that can have two manifestations. One is a perpetual Israeli occupation of Palestine and the progressive populating of that territory by Jews. Since no Muslims can or will accept that solution, it is tantamount to a perpetuation, probably exacerbation of the current situation. The other solution is an evolution toward a bi-communal state encompassing both the Palestinians and Israelis in a single state in current Israel and Palestine. The demographics of such a state would leave the Jewish population in the minority. Despite what it might be called, would this be Israel?

The reason for this diversion is to raise the question of what policy is effectively pro-Israeli. Is it the Likud solution, which protects Israel in the short run but could emperil it in the long run? Or is it a position that attempts to force the Israelis to pull back from the sttlements and return to the possibility of a two-state solution that would leave Israel basically with its pre-1967 borders but secure within those borders? It is possible to consider oneself pro-Israeli and supportive of either one.

Where does Hillary fit into this? The answer is ambiguous. She has been a staunch defender of Israel in the sense of suggesting a robust military action if Iran attacks Israel (no one ever quite explains why this is a likelihood) and condemning discussions with Hamas (the duly elected officials of part of Palestine) until they renounce terrorism and the intent to destroy Israel. Sounds very pro-Likud. At the same time, she has supported the creation of an independent Palestine (the two-state solution) since 1998. Not so pro-Likud.

Which she will end up being, of course, depends critically on what her boss the new president decides. His position is also not entirely clear. The exigencies of pursuing the Jewish vote in states like Florida lead to a pro-Likud stance (the position is more popular in the United States than it is in Israel), but Obama has also argued for a negotiated settlement. Since the two-state solution is the only basis on which the Palestinians and their supporters will negotiate, does that put Obama at odds with pro-Likud elements?

These matters are subtle and confusing, but they must be addressed when the current economic crisis passes and the new administration turns its attention to the foreign policy nightmare that the Bush administration has bequeathed it. Hopefully Obama and his foreign policy team will have worked through this problem before the time arrives.


3 Responses to “Secretary Clinton and Israel-Palestine”

  1. Brandon Owens Says:

    Dr. Snow,

    Long time since we’ve talked. I just now found your blog and am very impressed. It’s like sitting in your classroom all over again. My question for you is what do you believe will be the changes at the State Department under Hillary? I will probably attempt to get into the Foreign Service again now that we are assured there will be no more Bush action there. Thanks for your thoughts.


  2. […] Secretary Clinton and Israel-Palestine « What After Iraq? Growing reports that Hillary Clinton will become President Obama’s Secretary of State naturally raise questions of how she will do the job and what perspectives she brings to it. Among the hottest areas of speculation are how Secretary … […]

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