Clinton travels to a hardened Israel
On Syria, Iran, and a Palestinian state, Israel's new leadership disagrees with the Obama administration.
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Clinton said that the aid pledged to Gaza, including $900 million from the US, needed to be make its way to the people who needed it most. But the continued rocket fire by Hamas-affiliated militants was making it a hard case to argue, she said. "It's very difficult to solve this dilemma while Israel is still under rocket attack," Clinton said.Skip to next paragraph
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Many of Clinton's meetings Monday with Israeli leaders focused on the issue on which Israelis across the political spectrum share similar views: Iran, and the Obama administration's plans to take a more diplomacy-oriented approach to dealing with that country's developing nuclear program.
Israel's Haaretz newspaper said that Livni was to present Clinton with what Israel considers are red lines that it would like the Obama administration to bear in mind as it attempts dialogue with Iran.
Indeed, Netanyahu told reporters after his meeting with Clinton that "there must be a deadline to [an offer of] dialogue with Iran." But he added that "our shared goal is the need for creative thinking to move forward and out of the maze."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that he told Clinton that dialogue has to be backed by the threat of harsher United Nations economic sanctions. Israeli officials have also questioned whether it wouldn't make more sense to delay talks with Iran until after Iran's presidential elections in June.
Getting serious with Syria?
Clinton's move to reopen channels with Syria represents of the most tangible examples yet of a changed approach to the complexities of the Middle East. The Bush administration was opposed to talking with Syria even when it turned out that Israel was quite interested in rejuvenating its line of communication with Damascus, going so far as to hold unofficial talks in Turkey.
She said the two US officials have been dispatched to Syria in order to initiate "preliminary conversations." She added: "We don't engage in discussions for the sake of having conversations. There has to be a purpose to them, there has to be some benefit accruing to the United States and our allies."
Netanyahu has never ruled out talks with Syria. But during his recent election campaign, he promised voters that "The Golan [Heights] will remain in our hands." He said that the border was Israel's quietest, "because we are on the Golan, not below it." Israel occupied the territory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and its return to Syria has long been Damascus's starting point for peace talks.
Damascus is homebase for the top Hamas leadership, a situation that makes some hawkish Israelis demand the continued ostracism of Syria in the West, but leads others to argue for engagement that could co-opt Syria to play a more constructive regional role.
Jonathan Spyer, a political analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herziliya, Israel, says that Netanyahu will be more careful in office than some might expect, and that the differences between Israel's view and Washington's may not be so wide.
"I think there's an emerging separation in both the US and the Israeli views" of how to measure the Palestinian Authority's peacemaking capabilities. "It's a positive view of dealing with the Palestinian technocrats like Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the security forces trained by Gen. Keith Dayton, and a much more pessimistic view of everything happening at the political level, including Fatah," he says.
Clinton and Netanyahu won't necessarily be on a collision course, Mr. Spyer says, because expectations of solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are so low.
"We can expect moments of tension, even moments of finger-waving, but I don't think there will be a major blowout," he says. "I don't think that the gap between what's possible under Netanyahu, versus a government led by Livni, is all that huge."