In her new book, Hillary Clinton picks out a few foreign policy topics on which she thinks it now safe, even helpful, to express disagreement with the course taken by the Obama administration. She wanted to arm and train the Syria rebels, while Obama did not. She thought it unwise to call for Hosni Mubarak to step down immediately, while Obama wanted him gone.
She acknowledges that the Obama administration's demand for a settlement freeze from Israel as a precondition to talks with the Palestinians “didn’t work.” Yet she also seeks to exculpate herself from this failure by claiming that she was against the policy from the beginning. According to the Washington Post, she "disagreed with Obama and then-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on a demand that Israel halt all new settlement construction. 'I was worried that we would be locking ourselves into a confrontation we didn’t need,' she writes."
A confrontation indeed ensued – a long and nasty one that continues to this day and has been perhaps the most consistent feature of the administration’s foreign policy. Yet for all her alleged opposition to the policy that launched the confrontation, no one save President Obama himself played such a prominent role in provoking it, amplifying it, and prolonging it.
Immediately after Obama first issued the demand for a freeze, Clinton took the lead in making indignant, confrontational public statements that were clearly intended to intimidate the Israelis and gratify the Palestinians. The freeze, Clinton said, was the only way to get Abbas and the Palestinians to talk.
Yet as we now know, they never had any intention of talking, were never pressured by the Obama administration to talk, and instead sat back and enjoyed the spectacle of Obama and Clinton beating up on Netanyahu in public. And what a spectacle it was.
Clinton used an appearance on Al Jazeera on May 19, 2009 to continue the public lecturing of Netanyahu that Obama had commenced the day before – Al Jazeera being a TV station owned by a regime that doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist and that has a sordid history of championing Israel's terrorist enemies and propagandizing against the Jewish state. Said Hillary:
"We want to see a stop to settlement construction, additions, natural growth – any kind of settlement activity. That is what the president has called for."
She reiterated her comments a few days later at a press conference alongside the Egyptian foreign minister:
"With respect to settlements, the president was very clear when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here. He wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions."
When Netanyahu eventually announced the imposition of a settlement freeze he remarked, referencing the Obama administration, that “We have been told by many of our friends that once Israel takes the first meaningful steps toward peace, the Palestinians and Arab states would respond.” The Palestinians and Arab states did not respond – and yet Clinton, so vocal about the Israelis, issued no public criticism of the Palestinians for refusing to talk after the freeze took effect. She was in full compliance with an unwritten administration policy: No public criticism of the Palestinians – ever.
Her role in all of this was not confined to being Obama's lead enforcer on the settlement freeze. After an ill-timed construction planning announcement by the Jerusalem municipality during Vice President Biden's visit to Israel in March 2010, Clinton made a now-infamous phone call to Netanyahu in which she berated and threatened the prime minister for 45 minutes, issued a list of demands he would have to meet to salvage the U.S.-Israel relationship, and then instructed the State Department press secretary to boast to the press of just how harshly she had treated Netanyahu.
After the Clinton phone call, then-Israeli ambassador Michael Oren commented that relations between the two countries had hit their lowest ebb in 35 years.
A few weeks later, in April 2010, Clinton gave a speech at a dinner that was attended by Ambassador Oren and several ambassadors from Arab countries, and once again attacked Israel. She accused Israel of engaging in “unilateral statements and actions” that had undermined the peace process and she laid blame for humanitarian problems in Gaza on Israel, rather than the terrorist group Hamas that controls the territory and uses it to launch attacks on Israel. She even claimed that the lack of progress in the peace process – Israel’s fault, naturally – was strengthening Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She offered no criticism of the Palestinians.
Clinton today is attempting to recast herself as a more sensitive and evenhanded figure on these matters. She would have us believe that her role in the administration's campaign of criticism, pressure, and crisis-creation against Israel was one of reluctant participant, a loyal official carrying out her duties despite having tried to dissuade the president from a mistaken policy.
It is very difficult, looking at her record during this period, to conclude that the presentation of her role in her book is accurate. There is a simple and likely explanation for this revisionist history: She knows that her prominent role in the past five years of acrimony between the Obama administration and Israel is unhelpful to her presidential ambitions, and so she is attempting to distance herself from the administration's record by downgrading her involvement in its Israel policy. There is too much evidence to the contrary for her to get away with it.