Hillary Clinton received a warm welcome and standing ovations yesterday from nearly 7500 AIPAC delegates or citizen lobbyists from across the U.S. as she delivered a highly anticipated speech that heavily addressed last week's diplomatic flap between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations.
Clinton did not back away from the Obama administration's criticism, last week, of the Israeli government and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for an Israeli municipal authority announcement that construction of 1600 housing units will move forward in East Jerusalem. She made no mention of the fact that the Obama administration had, in securing a 10 month moratorium on construction in the settlements, previously accepted the possibility of construction in this area. Nor did her remarks include any discussion of Jerusalem as undivided capital of Israel.
Instead, she said that the U.S. has long had a policy that "does not support Israel's policy of continued settlement building" and said, "There is another path. A path that leads toward security and prosperity for all the people of the region. It will require all parties including Israel to make difficult but necessary choices."
She went on to say, "new construction in East Jerusalem endangers … talks on both sides." She also said, "We cannot ignore the long term population trends that result from Israeli occupation." (Am I alone in finding this an odd statement? As if Israel's presence in the West Bank accounts for the Palestinian demographic explosion in population since 1948).
Last week's flap, she acknowledged, was not about "hurt pride" (looks like the administration realizes no one's buying the 'Joe Biden was so embarrassed' story after all) but about "getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere" that is conducive to brokering peace. "We commend Prime Minister Netanyahu for embracing the two state solution … and expect Israel to take steps that will lead" towards peace. In the Obama Administration's view, those steps include "stop[ping] settlement activity" and "address[ing] the humanitarian crisis in Gaza." She also spoke of "encourag[ing] Palestinians to put an end to violence and ingrain[ing] a culture of tolerance."
(The last line sounds good. But she did not say zero incitement and violence on the part of Palestinian leadership, and acceptance of Israel's right to exist, were absolute prerequisites. Looks like only Israel is required to fulfill preconditions before negotiations begin).
Speaking of the rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza into Israel-one of which killed a foreign worker in Israel last week- Clinton said, "Behind these terrorist organizations and their rockets we see the destabilizing influence of Iran."
Then, in a paragraph remarkable for its thoroughly illogical juxtaposition, Clinton said, "Reaching a two state solution will not end all these threats. You and I both know that. But failure to achieve a two state solution gives our extremist foes a pretext to spread violence, instability, and hatred."
Although I have not been able to find it in the official transcript (perhaps I am just exhausted, or perhaps she was departing here from her prepared remarks) Clinton also made reference to the passage of Sunday's historic health care legislation, saying something vis a vis the two state solution that that if anyone doubts President Obama can achieve this vision during his presidency, "look at what he did yesterday."
Consider: Clinton is saying that President Obama will muscle a two state "solution" into existence during his term. However, by her own admission, that two state solution will not preclude violence against the Jewish state (note, the sentence, " You and I both know that" also seems to have been a spontaneous insertion, as I can't find it in the AIPAC transcript of her speech online. But she said it).
So essentially she seems to be proposing another Oslo, only a more honest version in which it is acknowledged, from the get-go, that a complete end to violence against Israel is not expected, even as the U.S. puts the squeeze on Israel to make elaborate concessions.
That said, she devoted a good portion of her speech to discussing the threat of Iran. She emphasized the Administration is working with the United Nations on new Security Council sanctions, and their aim is sanctions "that will bite."
She then said, "It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring these weapons."
Well, that part sounds good at least. It is difficult to know what to make of it all, however. On the one hand, Clinton is talking tough about Iran (of course, actions speak louder than words, and who knows what kind of time the world actually has before Iran crosses the threshold). On the other hand, she is clearly indicating that the "peace process" will move forward and, even to a pro Israel audience, she emphasized the concessions that Israel-not Palestinian leadership-will have to make.
It will be interesting to see whether, when she addresses Palestinian and other Arab audiences, Clinton emphasizes, with any measure of the bluntness reserved thus far for Israel, the concessions they and their leaders must make in this process.
This entire speech was couched in a great deal of endearing and poetic rhetoric about the unshakable U.S./Israel bond and Israel's admirable strengths and story as a nation. But throughout, she emphasized that being Israel's friend and ally requires honesty, even if the truth hurts. Although I think the speech attempted a sleight of hand by couching a harsh prescription for Israel in a lot of flowery language, Hillary is coming out and saying that the Obama Administration plans to ram a Palestinian state through during the President's term.
Again, if this process is to differ from Oslo in that it will be more honest, it will be interesting to see whether, in speeches to the Arab world, Clinton emphasizes what the Palestinians must do-such as end violence and end incitement-in as blunt a manner as she emphasized what Israel will be expected, if not required, to give up.