Bill Clinton is in Jerusalem trying to clean up behind President Obama and Hillary, whose strident anti-settlement policy has blown up in their face. Clinton’s comments are significant only because they show what a shambles the administration’s Middle East policy has become. Obama and his Secretary of State have managed to alienate the Israeli government by virtue of their initial hard line on settlements, and to place the leader of the Palestinian Authority in an untenable position by virtue of their retreat from that initial hard line. So now, it is left to an ex-president to play statesman and try to patch things up.
As to Clinton’s comments themselves, they are largely inane. To the Palestinians, Clinton argued that, although America wanted Israel to freeze settlement activity, Israel’s refusal to comply should not stop the two sides from talking. But the Palestinians depend on the U.S. to beat up the Israelis until they make concessions; this is their understanding of the “peace process.” The fact that, this time, the Israelis were able to beat up Obama until he changed his position has persuaded the Palestinians that the “peace process” isn’t proceeding to their satisfaction. Thus, they are acting reasonably in refusing to participate. Indeed, the PA would lose all credibility if it shrugged its shoulders at Obama’s defeat on the settlement issue, as Clinton is urging it to do.
Clinton also told the Palestinians that by refusing to talk with Israel, they risk irking the international community, which might then blame them for the stalled peace process. But the international community is never irked by the Palestinians for long. And it’s not in the international community’s DNA to blame the Palestinians for problems with the “peace process.” If you’re the “victim,” you’re the victim for all purposes.
To the Israelis, Clinton warned that It is only a matter of time before Hamas is capable of putting a GPS system on the rockets it continues to launch from Gaza against Israel’s southern border. Given this “trajectory of technology,” Clinton said that Israel needs to make peace and has the “partners” it needs to get this done. But Hamas is not one of those partners, and it’s the group that may soon be putting the GPS system on the rockets.
Clinton also instructed the Israelis “not [to] think that President Obama is your enemy.” He explained that “no American president can serve in good conscience and not be committed to the security of Israel.” But an American president might well believe, in good conscience or not, that Israel should “take risks for peace.” And Israelis might reasonably conclude that such a president is not sufficiently committed to the security of Israel, especially if they believe that there is no peace to be had.
President Obama declines to speak like a U.S. president, often preferring to take on the mantle of mediator of the world’s grievances against the U.S. — grievances to which he is generally quite sympathetic. As long as this continues, I would expect to be hearing more from Bill Clinton. Nature abhors a vacuum.
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