Watching the Democratic National Convention, I noticed that Bill Clinton was wearing a Hillary political button spelling out her name in Hebrew letters. As President Obama spoke of his great achievements involving the world economy and the Iran nuclear deal, I could only wonder what a new Clinton administration would look like. Unlike Obama, Hillary and Bill are doers first, and speech-makers second. But how would they alter US policy in the Middle East?
Unlike anyone else in the United States, Bill Clinton has first-hand knowledge of the intensity of Palestinian rejection of Israel as a Jewish state. The same is true in regard to Israel’s security. Back in the summer of 2000, President Clinton witnessed an Israeli left-wing prime minister offer a Palestinian president nearly the entire West Bank in exchange for a permanent peace treaty. To Bill Clinton’s (and the rest of the world’s) utter shock, Yasser Arafat rejected the proposal. But there was no shock in Israel. Israelis know the bitter truth of Palestinian intentions.
The so-called two-state solution has always been about phased struggle. The West Bank of the Jordan River is one of the most significant pieces of military landscape in the world. Whoever controls the West Bank controls the destiny of everything to its west. The Palestinians understand the geographic gravity of the high-ground on the Jordan River. A political solution to remove Israel completely from the West Bank is precisely the goal they desire. But such a “piece” treaty wouldn’t simply end with a West Bank state. The Palestinians also know the demographic strength of the Palestinian population east of the river. A West Bank state would only be the beginning of a total Palestinian second stage within a phased struggle conception.
The Palestinians are great at public relations. They can speak volumes about the “injustice” of the Israeli West Bank occupation. They have convinced the great majority of European and American left-wing activists that they want “nothing more” than a simple West Bank state. They speak these soothing words in Harvard-educated English as if this idyllic aspiration was their only motivation. But in Arabic, to their own people, and to the wider Arab Sunni world, their expressed motivations are entirely different and far more cynical.
Israelis hear the Palestinians in Arabic, and Israelis campaign and vote in Hebrew. The Jewish state gave its left-wing Labor politicians their big chance in the Clinton years of the 1990s. But to Bill Clinton’s surprise, Arafat’s first language was the Arabic that Western leaders rarely ever hear. In the aftermath of the 2000 Camp David summit, Clinton was humiliated and angered by Arafat’s rejection. Since that time, the Israeli Left has never again held power.
If they win the US election, the Clintons will have to deal with the most right-wing Israeli government in its history. There is only one way to do that properly; Hillary must think and speak as if she knows Hebrew. She must call out the Palestinian leadership for the rejectionist policies they adhere to. Hillary must isolate the Palestinians and seek a regional pathway forward in conjunction with America’s traditional Sunni Arab state allies. Bill Clinton never had that opportunity in the summer of 2000. In fact, Arafat used the excuse that his hands were tied by regional Arab rejection. But now, with Iran in the ascendancy, the Sunni Arabs are ready to make some kind of deal with Israel. And so too is the vast Israeli voting population located in the center of the political spectrum.
Prime Minister Netanyahu would dump his own far-right supporters in a heartbeat, if they had the audacity to attempt to stymie a regional Middle East solution. He would have no choice. Because without the political parties closer to the center, Bibi has no coalition. But only the concept of a regional solution — and not the unworkable West Bank Palestinian state idea — could produce the kind of vast centrist Israeli political surge necessary to make real progress in the Middle East. Such a surge is definitely possible once the Israeli people (within a Hebrew context) hear an American president admonish Palestinian rejection. They’ve heard it before (in bits and pieces) from Bill Clinton, but never from Hillary.
However, if Hillary speaks to Israelis in a kind of paternalistic, Obama-like English, she will be tuned out in a nanosecond. The same is also true if Obama passes on to her his parameters for an unworkable West Bank state solution. The tuning-out process could be even faster if she speaks in Bernie Sanders’ pro-Iranian rejectionist double speak. In Israel, when it comes to the so-called “peace process”, the center tilts to the right. This is why Hillary must speak with a Hebrew understanding and not the typical Democratic Party, Jewish-American liberal whitewash of deep-rooted Palestinian rejection.
This Israeli tilt to the political right has been true since the aftermath of Arafat’s rejection of the Clinton Administration’s efforts at Camp David. This tilt has been reinforced a thousand fold since General Sharon withdrew from Gaza, only to see that territory go over to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. Israelis live next door to ISIS, Hezbollah and the Hamas wing of the Brotherhood. Israel is not a Jewish-American suburb. And Israel didn’t discover the meaning of terrorism, missiles and hostile standing armies on its borders by watching events unfold on their I-phones. Israelis have lived this reality, upfront and personal, on a daily basis, for decades. They have many scars to prove that their perceptions are correct. And unlike Jewish-Americans, they don’t experience threats to their national security with an ocean and a continent as a strategic buffer. Israelis understand their situation in the languages of the Middle East, and foreign leaders must speak to them in the languages they understand.
Now the Sunni Arab states are beginning to understand the necessity of Israeli power within the region. Palestinian rejection has become a severe hindrance to a workable balance-of-power solution. These Sunni Arab states (unlike most Democrats in Hillary’s own party) totally understand Palestinian rejectionist policy. But for these states, the Middle East is no longer solely about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Sunni Arabs have much bigger fish to fry. Palestine is just one small piece in a much larger Middle East mosaic. Iranian imperialism is a real phenomenon. Israel and the Sunni Arab states must act together to counter it.
Now the Middle East is all about Syria, Iran and the global cooperation necessary between the US and Russia. A regional solution must be inclusive of Moscow or everyone is going to get very, very nervous about a potential escalation. Hillary is going to need a new reset button with the Kremlin if she wants to make progress against Iranian encroachment into the Sunni Arab heartland. Obama didn’t care about Syria, Lebanon or Iraq. His priority was solely Iran’s nuclear program. Now America’s Sunni Arab allies and Israel are much more flexible in their approach toward Russia. Hillary will need to follow suit.
Hillary can’t afford to continue Obama’s one-dimensional (nuclear only) policy direction. Yes, the current administration achieved an Iran nuclear deal. But at what expense? And for how long, without a complete capitulation to Iran’s regional imperial agenda? Under Obama, Syria and Lebanon have been lost to a budding Russian-Iranian alliance. Under Obama, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were left to their own devices with regard to Syria. Hillary knows the shortcomings of Obama’s policy. She was there when Obama rejected her counsel on Syria. And what was achieved? Syria’s promising Arab Spring has now become a far cry from democracy. Instead, under Saudi and Turkish Islamist tutelage the world got ISIS, and Syria has been nearly destroyed.
In the aftermath of this Obama legacy, Hillary will need to find a strategy not only toward the Islamic State but to roll back Iran as well. All the while, Obama has left her with US-Russian relations at their lowest ebb since the Cold War. Meanwhile, Iran remains positioned to blackmail the US over the nuclear deal. If Hillary wins the election, she will find herself boxed in between those who want to punish Iran for their many indiscretions and those many voices in her own party who don’t want to do anything about an Iranian-dominated Middle East.
But all is not lost. Hillary needs to think in terms of what comes after the Iran nuclear deal. And she needs to start implementing that vision immediately upon taking office. Will it be Obama’s vision of a full-fledged Iranian nuclear program within eight to ten years? Such a program would have a breakout time of a matter of days. And such an outcome could easily trigger a regional nuclear arms race. Hillary could adopt an alternative policy — a policy whereby within a decade or two, no nation within the region has the capacity for any kind of nuclear weapons breakout time. In other words, Hillary Clinton could endorse the idea of nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
Israel must never accept the idea of a nuclear-weapons-free zone unless its conventional security is buttressed through the permanent positioning of Israeli forces within the Jordan Valley and on the Golan Heights. Also, such a zone must include Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, and must be firmly protected by the entire UN Security Council with the addition of India, Germany and Japan as permanent members. And finally, such a zone within the Middle East must be incorporated within the realistic prospect that European, Asian and American nuclear disarmament would become the attainable goal of the United Nations.
This is not necessarily a pie-in-the-sky proposition. It was originally conceived as a crucial component of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So why not begin in the Middle East as a vital regional beginning toward greater global partnership and cooperation? In other words, a regional nuclear-weapons-free zone for the Middle East can begin as a generalized blueprint now! Within this context, formalized political relations between the Gulf states and Israel could also happen very soon.
Such a blueprint could become the essential formula for an understanding between Moscow and Washington as to the eventual structure for a generalized Middle East peace. Within such a framework, Europe (including Russia) could also begin to act as a whole within a conceptualization of far greater unity. This could mean the bridging of the divide between NATO and Russia. All the countries of the UN General Assembly and Security Council could begin to seek a regional political and military solution for Syria and Lebanon. The sectarian divide within the Middle East must be healed equitably if the United Nations is to remain relevant in the current century.
But for Israel to give up its nuclear weapons will be a very hard sell. The structure of the geopolitics of the Middle East must include a permanent balance within an international framework that commits the eight most powerful nations in the world (China, Russia, France, Britain, US, Germany, India and Japan) to a global architecture of world peace. This would be the only kind of language that Israeli Jews would certainly understand — the language of world peace. Jews have prayed for this concept and this historical moment for over three millennia. Hillary speaking in the Hebrew of the Hebrew Bible and the Hebrew Prophets would not be lost on any Israeli Jew.