The Cable

Trump and Clinton Try to Out-Israel the Other Ahead of New York Debate

In meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, the GOP nominee blames the Palestinians for the conflict and promotes his “wall,” while the Democratic nominee recommits to the two-state solution.

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NEW YORK — Ahead of their first presidential debate Monday, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sought, and got, weekend facetime with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to each emphasize support for Israel.

But the contrast of each campaign’s readout of the meetings shows a divergence on U.S. policy toward Israel that’s one of the more dramatic in recent American elections, in which the Jewish-American community, particularly in New York and swing state Florida, traditionally has played a powerful part.

In their hour-plus meeting at Trump’s residence in Trump Tower, the Republican nominee “agreed with” Netanyahu that peace isn’t yet possible in the generations-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of Palestinian obstruction.

Israelis “want a just and lasting peace with their neighbors,” but it will only be possible when “Palestinians renounce hatred and violence and accept Israel as a Jewish state,” according to the Trump campaign’s readout.

Trump sparked controversy during the Republican primary for suggesting he’d remain “neutral” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that the fault of its intractability lay with the Israelis. But his campaign — anti-Semitic dog whistles aside — has since swung back and farther the other way, sounding a more staunchly pro-Israel stance than much of the traditionally Israel-hawkish GOP.

Ahead of the GOP’s convention in July, several of Trump’s closest aides quietly and successfully worked to insert language into the Republican Party platform that stripped any reference to the two-state solution, the foundation of decades of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy. It was unanimously approved.

In their Sunday meeting, Trump and Netanyahu also discussed Israel’s “successful experience with a security fence that helped secure its borders.” It was a less-than-subtle attempt to extend the Israeli leader’s legitimization to the Republican’s infamous, early-and-often pledge to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Yet one of Trump’s most recent attempts to appear presidential on the world stage — a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto — devolved into a Twitter argument over whether the head of state had directly told Trump he wouldn’t pay the estimated $20 billion-plus price-tag for the hypothetical wall.

Trump also promised to formally recognize Jerusalem as the undisputed capital of Israel, if elected — a popular American presidential campaign pledge (and a position shared by Clinton for at least a decade), that none have kept.

The meeting had higher stakes for the Manhattan real estate magnate — who has no experience in public office, or deciding foreign policy or national security — than Clinton, the former secretary of state. Though the Trump campaign emphasized “the two have known each other for many years,” Clinton’s relationship with Bibi runs far longer, and goes beyond the personal to direct diplomacy.

Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration has had an at-times frosty relationship with Netanyahu’s, particularly over the Iran nuclear deal — which Republicans feel give them an opening with the traditionally overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish-American voter base.

In her own Sunday meeting with the prime minister, Clinton emphasized her support for the record-$38 billion, 10-year memorandum of understanding to help equip Israel’s military that Obama signed on Sept. 14. She also sought to reassure Netanyahu that she would “enforce and implement” the Iran agreement she helped secure — and that Trump has said he’ll renegotiate — as well as “aggressively counter Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism in the region,” according to a readout from a senior campaign aide.

During the Democratic primary, Clinton’s chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — the first Jewish presidential candidate to win a primary — pushed Clinton strongly left on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Sanders challenged her in a heated debate to call Israel’s 2014 strikes on Gaza disproportionate; she refused. Then his aides lobbied for inserting language in the Democratic Party platform to describe Israeli presence in land Palestinians claim for a future state as an “occupation,” but they were blocked by Clinton allies.

Still, for the first time, the platform explicitly asserts Palestinians’ “independence, sovereignty, and dignity” alongside Israeli security – language Clinton echoed in the Sunday meeting.

“The secretary reaffirmed her commitment to work toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity,” the readout said. It also noted Clinton opposes “any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution,” including the United Nations Security Council.

The Trump campaign sent out a photograph showing a laughing Netanyahu shaking Trump’s hand, sunlight glinting off his gilded decor in the background, though the prime minister met with some criticism for taking a meeting that legitimized Trump.

The Clinton campaign’s photo ops were decidedly more stately, if staid, with each smiling and sitting in arm chairs, then shaking hands, before the Israeli and American flag — a pose they’d both struck together many times before.

Photo credit: Handout / Handout

Molly O’Toole is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, covering immigration, refugees, and national security. She was FP’s sole 2016 presidential campaign reporter, on the trail from New Hampshire to Nevada. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at the Huffington Post. Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Reuters, the Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and her bachelor’s from Cornell University and in 2016 was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. She will always be a Californian. @mollymotoole

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