Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York in 2012.
Photo by Keith Bedford/Reuters

Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu: It’s ‘complicated’

Updated

Israel’s election Tuesday could have an outsize impact on U.S. politics, but for Hillary Clinton, it’s difficult to know what outcome she might prefer.

The former secretary of state is close to announcing a second presidential run, which, if successful, would mean she’ll have to work closely with whomever is prime minister come 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared victory late Tuesday, but he still must form a coalition in order to continue leading the country. Clinton has known Netanyahu for years, through rises and falls in both of their careers, and negotiated high-stakes deals with him recently as secretary of state.

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But while she speaks highly of him, it’s not in the warmest of tones. “I’ve known Bibi a long time and I have a very good relationship with him, in part because we can yell at each other, and we do,” she told CNN last year, using to a nickname for the prime minister. “And I was often the designated yeller.”

In her 2014 memoir “Hard Choices,” in which Clinton tends to portray others in the most flattering light possible, her description of Netanyahu as a “complicated figure” is decidedly more muted.

She had, by contrast a “close friendship” with Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister who was assassinated by a radical right-wing Israeli during Bill Clinton’s first term in the White House.

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After a short stint by Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres, Netanyahu took over the prime ministership in 1996 and served for most of the remainder of Clinton’s term. Netanyahu ”believes [he] lost him the prime ministership” in 1999, as Hillary Clinton said last year in an interview, because he signed a peace deal struck with Bill Clinton that included giving land to the Palestinians.

In 1998, Netanyahu and his wife took the Clintons to visit the Masada, a mountainous fort and one of the country’s major landmarks, just days before Clinton would be impeached back in Washington.  

More recently, Israel’s 2009 election was one of Clinton’s first tests as secretary of state. The Kadima Party and it’s leader, Tzipi Livni, actually won more seats, but failed to form a government, and Netanyahu was able to retake his old job.

In her book, Clinton wrote that she called Livni to suggest she join a coalition government with Netanyahu’s Likud party, which Clinton thought might have a better chance of striking a peace deal with the Palestinians than a government by Netanyahu. But Livni declined to share power with Netanyahu.

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This year, longtime Clinton message guru Paul Begala went to Israel to help Netanyahu’s rival, and several strategists who worked for Barack Obama and could potentially join a Clinton campaign – led by field organizer Jeremy Bird – are working with a nonprofit that opposes Netanyahu. Clinton’s longtime pollster, Stan Greenberg, has worked for the opposition Labor Party in the past as well.

Netanyahu has grown increasingly conservative in the lead-up to Tuesday’s tight election, saying this week that there will be no Palestinian state if he wins.

In a field in Iowa last summer, Bill Clinton gave perhaps his most candid thoughts on Netanyahu when a C-SPAN microphone caught him agreeing that Netanyahu is “not the guy” to bring peace to the region.

An American neoconservative group backing Netanyahu ran a commercial last month attacking Clinton for not speaking out against Democratic lawmakers’ plans to boycott Netanyahu’s recent speech to Congress. “Does she support the boycotters? Or is she too afraid to stand up to them?” the ad asked.

Clinton did not meet with Netanyahu while he was in town, though they were both in Washington on the same day.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton and Israel

Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu: It's 'complicated'

Updated