Israel Fears Clinton Administration's Mideast Peace Policy, Leaked Emails Show

Jerusalem is concerned that a Clinton presidency 'will be a Saban Forum for four years,' a senior official, probably Ambassador Ron Dermer, told her campaign staff, emails released by WikiLeaks reveal.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Clinton (top right), Dermer (top left), Eizenstat (bottom right) and Barghouti.
Clinton (top right), Dermer (top left), Eizenstat (bottom right) and Barghouti.Credit: AFP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

An Israeli official, presumably the ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, has conveyed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters Jerusalem’s fears that if president she would assign most of the responsibility for the stalemated peace process to Israel.

This message, conveyed around 10 months ago, is based on the belief that the former secretary of state would focus on the Palestinian issue in a way reflecting the ideas she put forth at the Saban Forum last December.

These fears have come to light based on emails between senior campaign officials that were released Friday by WikiLeaks.

A number of the leaked emails were sent by Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. diplomat and confidant of the Clinton family, to campaign chief John Podesta and top campaign aide Jake Sullivan. The latter is expected to become the U.S. national security adviser if Clinton is elected next month.

Eizenstat, a Democrat, served in senior positions during Bill Clinton’s presidency, including U.S. ambassador to the European Union and undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs, as well as deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Democratic President candidate Hillary Clinton (R) shaking hands with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a meeting at the W Hotel on Union Square September 25, 2016 in New York, New York.Credit: AFP Photo, GPO

Eizenstat, who was an adviser to Hillary Clinton during her presidential primary campaign in 2008, serves as co-chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute, among other positions.

According to the newly disclosed emails, around 18 months ago Eizenstat offered his services as a foreign policy adviser to the Clinton campaign. In an email to Podesta in February 2015, Eizenstat wrote that he and his late wife were very close to Dermer and his family, even attending the future ambassador’s bar mitzvah in Miami.

Eizenstat added that he remains a frequent guest at private events at Dermer’s official residence in Washington. “I could serve as a formal or informal emissary to Israeli government officials,” Eizenstat wrote.

The emails reveal that Eizenstat’s offers were accepted only in part. He was admitted to the circle of foreign policy experts with which Clinton’s campaign advisers consulted and for several months he, Podesta and Sullivan often corresponded by email.

Throughout this period, Eizenstat sent the Clinton campaign detailed updates on his meetings with Dermer. In one message, sent on December 8, 2015, Eizenstat briefed campaign officials on his “breakfast meeting with a senior Israeli official who is very close to the Prime Minister, and knows his thinking.”

He omitted the name of the official, but in all likelihood it was Dermer in light of his participation in some sessions of the Saban Forum held at the Brookings Institution from December 4 to December 6.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Ron Dermer in 2011.Credit: GPO

The annual event, which is associated with the Democratic Party, is organized by the Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban, considered Clinton’s biggest donor, together with the former U.S. special envoy to the peace process under President Barack Obama, Martin Indyk – the Brookings Institution’s vice president.

Like Saban, Indyk is considered very close to the Clintons.

Describing his unnamed subject's impressions of the Saban Forum, Eizenstat wrote that he "felt that most of the emphasis was on the Palestinian issue, and wonders if a Clinton Administration 'will be a Saban Forum for four years,' due to 'the people around her, but not her.' Her own speech was '95% good, although there was some moral equivalence language,'" Eizenstat said.

In her address to the forum, Clinton said the alternative to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “could be the black flag of ISIS.”

INFO-GRAPHIC: Israel fears Clinton administration's Mideast peace policy, Wikileaks revealsCredit: Haaretz

She called on the Palestinian leadership to “condemn and combat incitement in all of its forms” and to end violence against Israelis, and for the Israeli leadership to stop building in the settlements and to avoid violence against Palestinians.

Enumerating “insights” of the Israeli official he declined to name, Eizenstat reported: “The Prime Minister always had a ‘surprising [sic] good relationship’ with Hillary; she is ‘easy to work with,’ and that she is more instinctively sympathetic to Israel than the White House. Even during their famous 43 minute phone call, when [Benjamin Netanyahu] felt like slamming down the phone, he felt she was simply heavily scripted and reading from points prepared by the White House.”

The phone call took place in March 2010, after the crisis over construction in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood that occurred during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

Eizenstat said that according to the Israeli official, while Netanyahu favors a two-state solution, the idea does not have majority support in the Likud party or of senior coalition partner Habayit Hayehudi.

He added that Netanyahu “is genuinely interested in doing positive things on the ground” to help the Palestinians in the West Bank, but it “is difficult to do while the knifings are occurring, and while [Abbas] is fomenting violence.”

According to Eizenstat, the Israeli official said – in what was presumably a message to Clinton – that before carrying out such measures, Netanyahu needs to know that he has Washington’s support in the form of opposition to a UN Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and support for Israeli settlement activity in the settlement blocs.

The Israeli official noted that the Obama administration had refused both Israeli requests, reiterating that “there is a deal to be made with the next Administration, looking for positive steps at the outset; ‘it would be easy to do.’”

One interesting detail noted by Eizenstat concerns the Prime Minister’s Office’s view on a possible successor to Abbas. The official noted that although Abbas has talked for years about retiring, his threats to do so seem more serious of late.

The problem is that “there is no obvious successor if he leaves, ‘other than the guy in jail’” – the former Fatah West Bank leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in Israel for his role in killing Israelis during the second intifada.

According to Eizenstat, the Israeli official told him that while some figures in Israel’s governing coalition “want to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and take over full control” of the West Bank, Netanyahu wants “to keep the PA.”

But the official added: “However, if the PA takes Israel to the International Criminal Court, this would be a ‘huge problem’ and a potential game changer” in terms of the Israeli government’s relationship with the PA.

Eizenstat’s breakfast meeting with the Israeli official took place a few weeks after Netanyahu’s November 2015 visit to Washington, during which he met with Obama. The two leaders announced the resumption of the talks over the U.S. military aid package to Israel.

The official – presumably Ambassador Dermer – told Eizenstat that the biggest area of dispute was the final sum Israel would receive.

“The Israeli Embassy is not going around the Administration to lobby for a higher figure, although they could probably get it. But if the figure is too low, they will wait until the next President,” Eizenstat wrote.

On July 2, 2015, around two weeks before the Iran nuclear deal was signed, Eizenstat sent an email to Sullivan reporting on a meeting with Dermer, saying that the Israeli ambassador was “concerned the coming Iran battle will ‘shift downward the American-Israel’ relationship .... He thought three weeks ago that there was only a 10% chance of a congressional veto override; now he feels there is a 30% chance, as opposition is building and the gaps in the agreement are becoming clearer.”

Despite Dermer’s optimism, his and Netanyahu’s battle in Congress against the agreement failed two months later.

According to the email, the ambassador used the meeting with Eizenstat to send messages to Clinton concerning the Iran deal, requesting that she not show excessive enthusiasm for it.

“Dermer understands that Hillary will have to support the Iran nuclear deal. He is concerned that for the balance of Obama’s term, Iran could ‘blackmail’ the Administration by threatening to withdraw from the agreement if the U.S. contends they have violated some provision of the agreement,” Eizenstat wrote to Sullivan.

“It is important that even as Hillary endorses the agreement, and says she would vote for it if she was in the Senate, she ‘should not get too invested in it,’” he said, characterizing Dermer’s views.

According to Eizenstat, Dermer specified how Clinton should respond to the nuclear agreement, including promising, if elected president, to “confront Iran’s challenges in other areas (terrorism, Syria, Iraq)” and to “maintain all the non-nuclear sanctions on Iran (human rights, terrorism, etc.).” She should also augment aid to and cooperation with Israel.

“The Administration is ‘tone deaf’ about the ‘existential threat’ to Israel from Iran. Hillary should recognize and empathize with Israel’s concerns with the Iran deal,” Eizenstat wrote, characterizing Dermer’s concerns.

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