Analysis: Interpreting Netanyahu's meetings with Clinton and Trump

Netanyahu's desire to meet with both candidates did not necessarily meanm, as some argued, that he was subtly choosing sides

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the Trump tower (photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the Trump tower
(photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to be the next president.
This must be the case, because statements released by his office on Monday about the meeting the previous day included one clause that did not appear in a nearly identical statement put out after his meeting a few hours earlier with Donald Trump.
“Netanyahu discussed with Secretary Clinton a broad range of issues relating to advancing peace and stability in the Middle East as well as the potential for economic growth through technological innovation,” the statement read, while the readout of the Trump meeting made no mention of discussing potential for economic growth through technological innovation.
Those additional 11 words are a sure sign Netanyahu wants Clinton. Except, of course, that they are not, and this argument holds about as much water as those saying that Netanyahu’s interest in meeting both candidates on Sunday was a sign that he actually prefers Trump, and that it was a way for him to lend legitimacy to Trump’s campaign.
Clinton and Trump Debate
Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto also met Trump.
Did he want to give legitimacy to the Republican candidate’s campaign? Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met both Clinton and Trump. Did anyone argue that he was meddling in internal US politics by picking favorites? Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko both met last week only with Clinton. Does that mean they were trying to tilt the election in her favor? Netanyahu – as well he should – has taken great pains during this election cycle to keep out of the US election.
He has not said or done anything that could be interpreted as favoring one candidate over the other, realizing that nothing good could come out of Israel involving itself in this most odd and divisive US election campaign.
In 2012 the perception was that he favored Republican Mitt Romney, even though hosting candidate Romney in the summer of 2012 to dinner at his residence was similar to then-prime minister Ehud Olmert hosting candidate Barack Obama to dinner at about the same time in the campaign in 2008 – yet no one accused Olmert of taking sides.
This time Netanyahu has scrupulously avoided any such misperceptions. True, Israel Hayom, the paper owned by Netanyahu’s friend and supporter, Sheldon Adelson, has given favorable coverage to Trump, but that is far from conclusive evidence the prime minister wants to see Trump in the White House.
Netanyahu’s desire to meet with both candidates did not necessarily mean – as some have argued – that he was subtly choosing sides. Rather, interest in holding these meetings could just mean that he wanted to present Israel’s positions to the person who will soon be the most powerful individual on the planet, and that he wanted to get them on record with supportive statements about some key issues.
Granted, supportive statements two months before an election are not the stuff of future policy, but still.
To have Clinton, in the readout issued from her campaign after the meeting, reiterate that she is opposed to the UN intervening and imposing a solution on Israel and the Palestinians – at a time when there is a debate in Washington whether this exact course of action should be pursued – is not without significance.
While Netanyahu’s readout of his meeting with the two candidates was nearly identical, the statements from each of the rival camps tellingly stressed different aspects of the US-Israel relationship and different components of the conflict with the Palestinians.
But first, the similarities: Both campaigns began their readouts of the meetings stressing the strong relationship between the two countries, and nodding their agreement to the recently signed $38 billion, 10-year US military aid package to Israel.
While Clinton’s support was predictable, getting Trump on record as saying that the “military assistance provided to Israel and missile defense cooperation with Israel are an excellent investment for America” was not without consequence, considering that during the campaign he has hinted at the need for countries receiving US military aid over the years to begin repaying that assistance.
Regarding Iran, the Trump statement said the two men “discussed at length the nuclear deal with Iran,” but gave no more details.
Clinton’s statement was a bit more expansive, saying she committed herself to working closely with Israel to enforce and implement the deal, and counter Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism.
What is more interesting in looking at the statements, however, are the differences.
First of all, the Trump statement referenced “Islamic terrorism” twice, while that pair of words did not appear in Clinton’s statement. The Trump statement said that the candidate recognizes Israel “as a vital partner of the United States in the global war against radical Islamic terrorism,” and that Israel has “suffered far too long on the front lines of Islamic terrorism.”
Moreover, Trump – seeking to buttress his campaign pledge of building a wall with Mexico – said he and Netanyahu “discussed at length Israel’s successful experience with a security fence that helped secure its borders.” The security fence did not appear in Clinton’s statement.
He also mentioned the Jewish people’s 3,000-year tie to Jerusalem, saying – as numerous candidates have before him – that an administration he heads would recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. Clinton made no mention of the capital.
On the Palestinian issue, Trump said that peace will only come when the Palestinians “renounce hatred and violence and accept Israel as a Jewish state,” mentioning what Netanyahu has said are underpinnings to any future agreement.
Clinton, too, referenced the Palestinian issue, but highlighted different aspects.
She use the words “twostate solution,” something that did not appear in the Trump statement. She also said that a solution needed to be negotiated directly by the sides, and that it needed to guarantee Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders, while providing the Palestinians with “independence, sovereignty, and dignity.”
Trump made no mention of Palestinian aspirations.