Analysis: J'lem mostly pleased with Obama choices

The Clinton White House is generally considered by gov't officials as one that was solidly pro-Israel.

Clinton and Obama 298 (photo credit: AP)
Clinton and Obama 298
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a perfunctory congratulatory statement Monday night following the selection of Hillary Clinton as President-elect Barack Obama's choice for secretary of state. "Sen. Clinton is a friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish People and I am sure that - in her new position - she will continue to advance the special Israel-US relationship." It is a statement that, with a name change, Olmert probably would have issued had the choice been John Kerry or Bill Richardson, two men who earlier were in the secretary of state sweepstakes. But while the statement was rather generic, the sentiment was genuine: Jerusalem - still not yet quite sure what exactly to make of Obama - is pleased with the choice of Clinton. Indeed, with the possible exception of Susan Rice, who was named the new US envoy to the United Nations and who, one official in Jerusalem said, has never demonstrated any particular "warmth" to Israel, Jerusalem is pleased with the national security team that Obama trotted out Monday: Clinton, Robert Gates to continue as defense secretary, and retired general and former Middle East security envoy James Jones as the new national security adviser. In general, there is satisfaction that the team is - overall - more hawkish than Obama, something that plays well in a Jerusalem that was somewhat concerned during the election campaign that Obama could drift toward the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Obama's selection of his national security staff indicates that he has no intention of going there. There is also satisfaction that the team Obama picked represents more continuity than change, at least as far as Middle East policy is concerned. Both Gates and Jones served under President George W. Bush, and Clinton is not someone expected to be advocating a sea-change in US Middle East policy. Obama's campaign theme of change did not resonate well in Jerusalem, if only because Israel was happy with the status quo with Washington. That Obama's team represents continuity is, from Israel's vantage point, a strong positive. Jones, who has spent a year studying Israel's security needs for the day after the establishment of a Palestinian state, is a former NATO commander who is believed to have a good understanding of Israel's security dilemmas. While Jerusalem did not always see eye-to-eye with him over the last year, particularly with regard to his apparent support for international forces, perhaps from NATO, in the West Bank, there was a sense that he definitely understood and was sympathetic to the country's security needs and concerns. Regarding Clinton, one senior diplomatic source said there was relief at her choice because it is always easier dealing with a known quantity, rather than an unknown one. Clinton knows Israel, has a track record in the Senate of strong support for Israel, and is widely perceived in Jerusalem as being someone - like her husband - who would not be interested in pushing Israel beyond where it was willing to go. The Clinton White House is generally considered by government officials as one that was solidly pro-Israel; one that followed the mainstream views that prevailed in Israel at the time regarding the peace process and Oslo. For those who now see the Oslo process as a failure, it is important to point out that it was not Bill Clinton who led Israel to Oslo, but rather Israel who led the way for Clinton. The Clinton Administration did not make any outrageous demands or place undue pressure on Israel to make concessions, and it is not believed that Hillary Clinton would widely diverge from that path. In addition, that Clinton is considered someone who may very well make another run at the presidency (she turned 61 in October) is also a plus. As a potential candidate, she would be unlikely to take any actions that antagonize her core constituency, and a large part of that constituency, part of her power base, is made up of Jewish supporters in New York who care deeply for Israel's well-being.