Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Hillary Clinton's speech to the 2010 meeting of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in Washington on March 22 was, with few exceptions, a conciliatory exercise that did little to chafe the Israel lobby and even less reassure skeptics of the US's role in brokering a viable peace. Without defining any concrete next steps, Clinton nonetheless affirmed her personal support of the Jewish state and described America's commitment to it as “rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever.”

Here are some highlights from Clinton's speech to AIPAC:
- Explicit nod to the broad regional implications of Israel's refusal to change policies, including several mentions to the legitimate right of Palestinian people to thrive in freedom and peace.

- Unequivocal US support for two-state solution according to 1967 lines, stop to settlement-building, and normalization of Israel's regional relations including with Syria. Affirmed Hamas and Hezbollah as "terrorist organizations" while calling for sanctions that "bite" against an Iran with unrelenting nuclear ambitions.

- Argued that untenability of status quo obliges Israel to change course: demographic reality does not favor Israel; technological advances make more difficult the task of protecting Israel's security through military means alone; and the status quo fuels violent extremist ideology that ultimately jeopardizes peace/security and fuels peace rejectionists' ambitions.

Following Clinton's speech, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Secretary Clinton then with Vice President Biden. Whatever was said during these sessions, Israeli leaders were not persuaded to change the status quo that Clinton decried in her remarks. For that same evening, before the same conference, Netanyahu categorically refused to stop construction of settlements and insisted that Jerusalem belongs to Israel. This following the "insult" of announcing new settlements during the recent visit of Biden, a staunch long-time advocate for Israel.

Netanyahu's rebuke of the US appears driven by a motivation to resist any push-back from President Obama (however mild it has now proven to be) with the hope of making him a one-term president in order to demonstrate that no US politician can stand firm against Israel nor derail its chosen policies and still remain politically viable. This is an interesting gamble given recent poll results showing Israeli public opinion favoring Obama and showing less enthusiasm for Netanyahu and his Likud party.

The US pays a tremendous amount in annual bilateral aid to be treated as such. More disappointing still is the prospect that the administration lacks the strategic vision and political courage necessary to move beyond lukewarm declarations and to apply effective pressure in the face of opposition in order to yield meaningful results.

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are expected to meet behind closed doors at the White House on Tuesday, March 23.

- Amy Greene