Clinton on Mideast, Obama’s pastor


PHILADELPHIA (JTA) – U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) said that American efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table have often resulted in a reduction in violence, even if a lasting peace has proved elusive.

“I think what we did in the ’90s was beneficial in a strategic way and led to a period where, at times, there were no attacks being made, no suicide bombings and no deaths,” said Clinton, a Democratic presidential contender, in a telephone interview with the Jewish Exponent.

The former first lady was referring to the diplomacy undertaken by her husband, Bill Clinton, when he was in office and specifically the late 1990s, when terrorism declined following a rash of attacks in 1995 and 1996.

Clinton added that while the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat may have rejected peace in 2000, she did not regret the Oslo process.

“It was a mistake for the Bush administration to take a hands-off approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel is more vulnerable today that it was eight years ago,” said Clinton, who further criticized the current president’s push for elections in the West Bank and Gaza back in 2006, as well as the inclusion of Hamas in those elections.

Clinton said the administration got back on the right track with the process begun late last year at Annapolis, Md., although she is concerned that the weakened political positions of both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may complicate the efforts.

Clinton described both Hamas and Hezbollah as existential threats to Israel, but said that if elected president, she would consider entering into limited talks with Hamas if Israel deemed such outreach was in its best interests.

Regarding Iran, Clinton reiterated her refusal to address the “hypothetical question” of what she would do if Tehran gained nuclear capability in the next four years.

Instead she called for increased sanctions and low-level talks with Iran to head off that possibility.

Clinton repeated her barb at her Democratic presidential rival, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), for saying in a debate last year that during his first year in office he would be open to meeting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“If we did ever have to take action against Iran, we would have demonstrated to the rest of the world that we had exhausted other possibilities,” she declared.

Regarding the ongoing violence in the Sudanese region of Darfur – labeled a genocide by the U.S. government – Clinton called for an increased roll for NATO and the United Nations that could possibly involve targeted strikes of Sudanese airfields.

Clinton is leading in statewide polls, and is campaigning across Pennsylvania in the hopes that a victory in the state’s April 22 primary would bolster her claim to the nomination.

A newly released Gallup Poll had Clinton and Obama in a statistical tie for support among Jewish Democrats, with Clinton garnering 48 percent and Obama 43 percent.

On March 24, Clinton delivered a major policy speech on the economy at the University of Pennsylvania, hoping to shift some focus back to herself after the reaction to Obama’s March 18 speech about race dominated the national news.

In past weeks, Clinton had not commented on the controversy surrounding Obama and his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose sermons have circulated widely on the Internet, and have included tirades against both the United States and Israel.

But during the interview, Clinton said that “given all we have heard, he would not have been my pastor … . We don’t have a choice when it comes to our relatives, but we do have a choice when it comes to churches or synagogues.”

Recommended from JTA