Analysis |

Clinton's Resignation ­is Netanyahu's Missed Opportunity

The prime minister has lost an important partner in Washington with the departure of Hillary Rodham Clinton, as no U.S. secretary of state has known Israel and the Israelis as well as Clinton.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

On Friday Hillary Rodham Clinton left her State Department office in Washington for the last time. In four years she has traveled nearly a million miles and visited 112 countries, more than any other U.S. secretary of state. For Israelis and Palestinians, Clinton's exit is a sad departure.

If any issue is close to Clinton's heart it's the peace process. The Clintons' affinity for Israel is profound. Unlike President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton's regard for Israel doesn't stem from cold interests but from warm feelings.

No American secretary of state knew Israel and the Israelis as well as Clinton. She has accompanied us for 20 years. To some extent, the peace process' history is her family history. She understood the Israelis' deep fears and Israel's security needs.

Precisely for these reasons, the last four years have been a missed opportunity. During Clinton's term the peace process entered a deep freeze. This is not her failure. The failure is entirely that of the Israelis and the Palestinians, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas.

Clinton visited Israel only five times in four years. American secretaries of state haven't hesitated to dive into the Israeli-Palestinian bog when they thought they had a chance to succeed. Condoleezza Rice came here 25 times because she believed that the negotiations conducted by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni could yield results.

Clinton put a lot of time and effort into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the first 18 months of her term, when she thought real progress could be made. She even led the three rounds of direct talks between Netanyahu and Abbas in September 2010.

The negotiations' breakup soon afterward, the failure to extend the freeze on settlement construction and the wave of revolutions in the Arab world at the beginning of 2011 changed her evaluation of the situation. Clinton still wanted to advance the peace process but realized nothing would come of it - there was no one to talk to on either side. Abbas became weak and Netanyahu became rigid. Both men's political cowardice generated recalcitrant behavior that prevented any progress.

So Clinton devoted her time to more burning issues, especially those where she could make a difference. She focused on Libya, Egypt, Myanmar, Africa and empowering women worldwide.

Clinton castigated Abbas, but she criticized Netanyahu for not showing empathy to the Palestinians and their suffering, for being petty and tightfisted and for building more settlements - instead of taking confidence-building gestures.

Clinton is extremely concerned about Israel's direction. In a private conversation at the Saban Forum in December 2011, she spoke about the racist, nationalist, anti-democratic and extremist trends in Israel; about the xenophobia, the exclusion of women and the loss of hope in achieving peace with the Palestinians.

Clinton doesn't believe that the status quo can continue forever. She thought building high walls and iron domes was a real security need, not a solution. She thought that even if a final-status agreement couldn't be achieved, Israel must try at least to take the moral high ground.

Clinton may be leaving, but nobody will be surprised if she returns to our lives sooner than expected. She's still the hottest name to succeed Obama in 2016. One may hope that if she returns to the White House she won't find that it's too late for Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivering joint statements in Jerusalem on November 20, 2012.Credit: Reuters
Hillary Clinton, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu talking in Jerusalem, Israel, Monday, July 16, 2012. Credit: AP

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