Bill Clinton Strays From Hillary’s Israel Script and Knocks Netanyahu

In a conversation with pro-Palestinian activists in Iowa, the former president agrees: the Israeli PM won’t make peace 'unless he’s forced to.'

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Former Senator Hillary Clinton has turned into a staunch defender of Israel in recent months, standing up for its military campaign in Gaza and praising Benjamin Netanyahu for his leadership and moderation. Her husband Bill, however, appears to have a different view that he seems willing to share, at least when he thinks the microphone is off. Thus, at a widely publicized political meeting held in Iowa on Sunday, Clinton was overheard clearly agreeing with an interlocutor from the audience who said that the Israeli Prime Minister is “not the man” who would make peace and just as clearly concurring with the statement “If we don’t force him to have peace, we won’t have peace.”

Clinton’s comments were recorded by the American C-Span network at the tail end of its three-hour coverage of the Harkin Steak Fry held on Sunday in Indianola, Iowa. The annual event, organized by retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, received widespread media coverage in America and was largely seen as an opening shot in Hillary Clinton’s as yet unannounced run for the presidency in 2016.

Following the speeches, both Clintons devoted over half an hour to talking and signing autographs for long lines of waiting fans. Towards the end, after Hillary had already left the scene, Bill Clinton was stopped by a group of pro-Palestinian activists who had handed Hillary a copy of the Middle East section of the Iowa Democratic party plank. But while the former senator largely ignored the group’s verbal remarks, pro-Palestinian activist Pat Minor succeeded in baiting the former president. “I know why Yasser Arafat turned you down,” she said, according to her an account she shared with a United Methodist Church discussion group. Clinton then stopped to dispute her assertion that water rights had been the main stumbling block at the failed Camp David talks that Clinton oversaw in 2000, when another participant started talking about Netanyahu’s refusal to make peace, at which point the C-SPAN recording begins.

PRO-PALESTINIAN ACTIVIST: “If we don’t force him to have peace, we won’t have peace.”

CLINTON: First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.

ACTIVIST: I agree. But Netanyahu is not the guy.

CLINTON: (after pausing to absorb the remark) I agree with that, but they [the Palestinians] would have gotten 96% of the West Bank, land swaps in Gaza, appropriate water rights and East Jerusalem, something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office. And by the way, don’t forget, both Arafat and Abbas later said they would take it “we changed our minds, we’ll take it now” but by then the Israeli government wouldn’t give it to them.

Bill Clinton’s comments contrasted sharply with Hillary’s defense of Israel and praise for Netanyahu in her recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic this month. Clinton said that her husband “got Netanyahu to give up territory, which Netanyahu believes lost him the prime ministership [in his first term], but he moved in that direction, as hard as it was.”

In the interview, Clinton also downplayed her own confrontations with Netanyahu when she was Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term and lauded the Israeli leaders willingness to compromise. “I saw Netanyahu move from being against the two-state solution to announcing his support for it, to considering all kinds of Barak-like options, way far from what he is, and what he is comfortable with,” she said.

On her way to the Steak Fry, the Clinton’s may also have noticed a demonstration held by a handful of members of the American Friends Service Committee who held signs that said, "Hillary, end your complicity with Israel War crimes," and "Who profits? Who pays?"

Spokespersons for both Bill and Hillary Clinton declined to comment about this report.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flip steaks at the 37th Harkin Steak Fry, September 14, 2014 in Indianola, Iowa.Credit: AFP

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