Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 | 2:01 a.m.
Everyone expected Hillary Clinton to lower the boom on Bibi Netanyahu last Friday night.
The bullying Israeli prime minister is fond of demanding that America set red lines on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But he blithely stuck a finger in the eye of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Clinton and went over a red line for successive U.S. administrations: Israel gave the White House only a few hours’ notice that it was defying the U.S. and planning new settlements in the most sensitive territory east of Jerusalem, a move that Washington fears could obliterate any prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“If such a project were to go beyond blueprints,” Jodi Rudoren and Mark Landler wrote in The New York Times, “it could prevent the creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state” by closing off the West Bank from East Jerusalem.
The brazen and counterproductive action, designed to punish the Palestinians, flouted the Obama administration, which had Israel’s back twice recently: in the clash with Hamas over Gaza and, despite increased diplomatic isolation, in opposing the successful vote to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state in the United Nations.
The provocation preceded Clinton’s speech Friday night at the Saban Forum at the Willard Hotel in Washington. The conference on the Middle East is run by Haim Saban, an Israeli-American media and entertainment mogul from Beverly Hills who is best known for three things: bringing the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers from Japan to America, being a vocal supporter of Israel and lavishing the Clintons with donations. (He gave $5 million to the Clinton presidential library and $5 million to the Clinton foundation and avidly supported Hillary’s ’08 bid against Obama.)
Last year, at the Saban forum, Hillary infuriated some Israeli ministers when she said she was alarmed about the rights of women and “antidemocratic” bills proposed by far-right members of the Netanyahu government. She talked about her dismay at learning that some religious Israeli soldiers walked out of events where women were singing and that some buses in Jerusalem operated under gender apartheid — “reminiscent of Rosa Parks,” as she put it. So, many in the audience this time assumed that the outgoing secretary of state would lay down the law to Bibi on settlements, and they were surprised when she pulled her punches and made only a mild reference, eschewing the word “settlements.”
“These activities,” she said, “set back the cause of a negotiated peace.”
She said the Palestinians could have had a state “as old as I am” if in 1947 they had made “the right decision” or if they had “worked with my husband” in 2000. And she urged Israel to be “generous” toward the Palestinians. But she didn’t whack Bibi, as he deserved.
Many there came away assuming that it was the beginning of Clinton’s 2016 campaign, that she was thinking about her future rather than her present. Her reasoning, they reckoned, was this: If Obama doesn’t want to have anything to do with the settlement issue, if he’d rather spend his time in Myanmar than Israel, then why should she stir up trouble with Israel and her pro-Israel supporters on her way out the door?
And aside from the dog that didn’t bark, there was the video that roared. A film that introduced Clinton featured leaders and Israeli pols — including Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni — gushing over the secretary.
In a dispatch headlined “Hillary Is Running,” David Remnick, The New Yorker editor, wrote: “The film was like an international endorsement four years in advance of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.”
How can we focus on Obama’s transition when Clinton’s is so much more riveting? Far from being depleted and ready for a spa, she’s energetically rounding up the usual suspects. She “took steps to solidify her relationships with some Democrats by sending hand-signed notes to candidates who got bested in close congressional races,” offering them encouragement and succor, The New York Observer’s politics blog reports. That provided a marked contrast to Obama, who did not bother to rally Democrats in his acceptance speech.
Clinton also reached out for the first time to reunite her Irish-American fundraisers and top supporters.
IrishCentral.com reports that Kris Balderston, a Clinton aide, sent invitations to several prominent Irish Democrats who raised millions for her Senate and presidential runs to accompany the top diplomat to events in Dublin and Belfast this week. Although other possible 2016 contenders, such as Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, have Irish connections, Clinton is the cushla, or darling.
“I hope this means Hillary is running,” said Niall O’Dowd, the publisher of IrishCentral.com and other Irish publications in New York, who is joining the secretary in Ireland at her invitation. “She has enormous strength in the Irish-American community because of the Clintons’ massive role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. She’s a country mile ahead of every other contender with the Irish.”
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.