Where will Hillary stand on Gaza?

It was inevitable that Clinton would encounter a tough challenge as soon as she takes over State, and while it’s hard to predict what the situation on the ground in Gaza will look like in a few weeks, the aftermath (ceasefire or otherwise) will unquestionably be competing for space at the top of the to-do ...

590764_090105_gazahillary2.jpg
590764_090105_gazahillary2.jpg

It was inevitable that Clinton would encounter a tough challenge as soon as she takes over State, and while it's hard to predict what the situation on the ground in Gaza will look like in a few weeks, the aftermath (ceasefire or otherwise) will unquestionably be competing for space at the top of the to-do list. (The likeliest scenario? Israel will be done with its campaign before Obama takes the oath.)

In a lot of ways, letting Hillary take the lead on handling the crisis is win-win for Obama. With a less high-profile secretary of state (a Kerry, or a Richardson, say), the world would be looking to Obama for its cues. But putting Hillary forward -- she's liked by hawks and generally well respected in the region -- allows Obama to turn immediately to other pressing matters, like the economy, and avoid spending valuable political capital (not just at home, but abroad) early on.

It was inevitable that Clinton would encounter a tough challenge as soon as she takes over State, and while it’s hard to predict what the situation on the ground in Gaza will look like in a few weeks, the aftermath (ceasefire or otherwise) will unquestionably be competing for space at the top of the to-do list. (The likeliest scenario? Israel will be done with its campaign before Obama takes the oath.)

In a lot of ways, letting Hillary take the lead on handling the crisis is win-win for Obama. With a less high-profile secretary of state (a Kerry, or a Richardson, say), the world would be looking to Obama for its cues. But putting Hillary forward — she’s liked by hawks and generally well respected in the region — allows Obama to turn immediately to other pressing matters, like the economy, and avoid spending valuable political capital (not just at home, but abroad) early on.

There’s a chance that Hillary will enjoy at least the assumption of an honest broker’s role in the region right off the bat. She is, after all, a Clinton; the last time a Clinton sat in the Oval Office coincided with the closest approximation of peace in the region, a time looked on by some in the region with (at times, misplaced) nostalgia after the past eight years. But Bill Clinton and his advisers also placed most of the blame for the failure of Camp David at the feet of the Palestinians, a fact not quickly forgotten.

Hillary appeared quite sympathetic to the cause of Palestinian statehood as first lady (occasionally to controversy) and then vocally embraced all things Israel when she ran for New York Senator. But anyone who thinks that Hillary will unblinkingly hold to her staunch pro-Israel stance at State probably underestimates her capacity for reinvention, not to mention her ability to recognize that she’s no longer answering solely to a New York constituency. Here’s Steve Clemons in the NY Observer recently:

One of the most interesting questions is, what is Hillary Clinton’s makeover going to look like? Because Obama sure is different. I guarantee you [defense secretary] Bob Gates will look different under the Obama team than he did under Bush. For anybody to think that she is not going to become Hillary 3.0, I think, is making a serious mistake.”

My guess is that Hillary will look to be the accessible diplomat first and foremost, and that anyone looking to her campaign speeches for clues to her stance on Israel might be surprised.

Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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