The Hillary Clinton Factor

What role will Clinton play in the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Our panel shows her great favor, but will it last?

December 13, 2010 13:39
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton

Hillary Clinton face and flag 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

Interpreting Hillary Clinton’s Saban speech the one in which she formulated her new path for the peace process (calling it new policy will be a stretch) – was not an easy fit. Neither for commentators nor even for news editors. Some assumed the main headline was Clinton’s rejection of “imposed solution”, others believed the headline was really her call on Israel to finally “deal with core issues.” But all observers generally agreed: Clinton is the new boss of the peace process. The envoy era is over, the White House has better, more urgent things to do. Clinton will now shoulder this burden of dealing with the reluctant Netanyahu and the hesitant Abbas.

The Israel Factor had been following and ranking Clinton since the very beginning of this project. Our panel of experts ranked Clinton when she was still a candidate for the presidency (see why the panel wanted Clinton more than most other candidates here, somewhat complicated analysis of possible Clinton-McCain race can be seen here). And it ranked her fairly high, thinking she would be the best Democratic president from an Israeli perspective, and in many cases also thinking she’s “better for Israel” than Republican candidates.

However, there was always some suspicion on the part of our panel when Clinton was involved. As I explained here: “Hillary Clinton is the most confusing candidate for people who follow the Israel Factor. Examining her numbers over the last year of ranking can be unpredictable, and even perplexing”. One reason for this? The panel was not sure whether Clinton is honestly sharing her views regarding Israel with the public or just playing the right politics for a Senator from New York and Presidential candidate. “Clinton, the panel argues, says all the right things from the Israeli perspective. The question remains if she will stick to her current positions if she becomes president. The panel was somewhat skeptical, giving Clinton a 3.125 out of 5, a notch above disbelief”.

Now Clinton is handling the peace process, after two years in which she had her share of both Netanyahu-slamming and Netanyahu-praising. Does The Israel Factor panel of 2010 think she’s doing a fine job as Secretary of State? As you can see in our statistics page, Clinton is seen as much better than her boss, Obama, by the panel. This is true today, and was true a month ago (the question was: From 1 (bad for Israel) to 10 (good for Israel): Generally speaking, please rate the following people and institutions):

And this is true not only when looking at the average number produced by the panel, but also when loking at the specific votes of each of the panelists: Clinton not only ranks better than Obama, she’s also much less polarizing. Except for one member of the panel, they all give her between 5 and 9 (Obama ranks 1 through 9).

Let’s look at what the panel believed to be the likely policy of the US in the next months (the panel gave its answers two weeks before the Saban speech). The question was: “On scale of 1 (unlikely) to 5 (very likely): What of the following moves do you expect the Obama team to pursue in the next couple of months”:

The panel, however, got it wrong on the “third round” of freeze as there clearly will not be another round. While three is not technically “wrong”, three panelists gave this option a four and they were clearly wrong. The panel also believes that there’s a fair chance that the Americans will present Israelis and Palestinians with a map - which seems more likely after the Clinton speech (“we will offer our own ideas and bridging proposals when appropriate”).The panel was also not tempted to think that the peace process would be pushed aside – unless one believes giving it to Clinton is actually pushing it aside.

How will the combination of a new peace process mediator and a new policy fair with the panel next time? What happens if Clinton becomes more confrontational and more demanding? What if she pushes Israel toward concessions? The panel doesn’t think Clinton will try to manufacture a change in Israel’s coalition, but some see

The easy answer would be this: She’ll definitely become more polarizing, and panel members will be less in agreement when asked about her. Walking this line smartly, though, Clinton might be able to gently push the Israeli government toward peace talks while maintaining the sense of trust on the part of Israelis (Israelis in general, and not just the panel, trust her more than they trust Obama). If she can achieve such thing (without alienating Palestinians), her role as peacemaker will become easier, and her chances at having some success will increase.  However, one should remember where we started with Clinton: She’s competent and positively familiar, but gets only a “notch above disbelief.”

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