US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made perhaps her final visit to Israel in her official capacity yesterday, bringing a message of solidarity to the Jewish state after three-and-a-half years of only stunted progress toward a Palestinian peace deal.
Clinton was also to discuss issues ranging from Egypt’s democratic transition to Iran’s nuclear program during a day of meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s president, foreign minister and defense minister. She will also sit down with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as well, before returning to Washington early today. The meetings in Jerusalem culminate a 12-day, nine-country trip that included stops in Europe and Asia.
Her arrival follows a weekend visit by US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected to visit Israel soon.
Although yesterday’s agenda is designed to cover the breadth of US-Israeli relations, the lack of action on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be in the spotlight.
Negotiations have almost been nonexistent for the duration of US President Barack Obama’s term in office. They resumed briefly two years ago, before stumbling over the same set of problems, namely Palestinian demands for a freeze on Jewish settlements in lands they seek for their future state and an Israeli insistence on no preconditions for talks.
Asked in an interview Sunday with WJLA-TV, a Washington station, what he believed he failed at, Obama cited Arab-Israeli peace efforts.
“I have not been able to move the peace process forward in the Middle East the way I wanted,” he said. “It’s something we focused on very early, but the truth of the matter is that the parties, they’ve got to want it as well.”
Clinton has not visited Israel since September 2010. With little to show for US efforts on a two-state peace agreement and a hectic schedule before she steps down as secretary of state next year, it is unlikely she will return. Clinton has said she would leave the post even if Obama wins a second term.
The flurry of visits by top US officials to Israel could reflect an administration attempt to shore up Obama’s support among Jewish voters as the election nears. The president has pushed back forcefully against Republican claims that he is weak in defending Israel’s security, and Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney is planning to visit Israel later this month.