If we take Hillary Clinton’s words at face value, friends of Israel have little to worry about in the near future in terms of a major shift in American policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians. In her visit to the region last week, Clinton reiterated America’s commitment to the “three principles” that must be honored for America to work with a Palestinian government: That any governing party must (i) recognize Israel, (ii) renounce terrorism, and (iii) remain committed to all previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In practical terms, this means that a unity government between Fatah and Hamas would have to force Hamas to accept all three principles — which is something that Hamas is extremely unlikely to do officially, nominally, or even in a double-speak way that accepts them in English but not in Arabic. And since, in the absence of a unity government, it seems very unlikely that any kind of peace agreement can be reached, Clinton’s position appears to predict many more years of the status quo.
But is this really the case? There are two scenarios I can think of where the Obama Administration could still justify (in its own eyes) massively pressuring Israel to make further concessions to the Palestinians. One would be if a unity government were formed that somehow accepted the three principles publicly, but still allowed Hamas some measure of deniability, somehow fudging the gap between what the government says and what one of its biggest factions says. The other is if it turns out that we cannot take Clinton’s words at face value — and the administration chooses to recognize Hamas or a Hamas-inclusive coalition, dropping the three principles.
Ultimately, however, whether Obama and Clinton remain really dedicated to these three principles depends, I suspect, a lot more on Obama’s internal political calculus than on Hillary Clinton or the Middle East itself. The Chas Freeman affair has probably shown him how little room he has to maneuver in terms of radical changes in foreign policy. When midterm elections roll around in a year and a half, he will be judged more than anything else on the state of the economy and his success in forestalling its collapse. He has quickly discovered how rough American politics can be, even when you have majorities in both house of Congress. Capitulating to terror by giving up on the three principles would likely trigger a massive internal battle that he would rather do without.