Hillary Clinton's First Test Likely in Gaza

About to encounter a world of problems, including two ongoing wars, the first matter Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton will likely have to address is the hottest -- the escalated fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

While Clinton brings to the table of any future Mideast peace negotiations a respected name and the goodwill surrounding her boss Barack Obama -- and her husband, former President Bill Clinton -- she also brings a legacy of contradictory statements about the region.

Since Hamas, the Islamist organization branded a terror group by the United States, violated a ceasefire and then, five days ago, Israel began responding with precision air strikes, President-elect Obama and Clinton have both refused to comment on the fighting, leading many to wonder where the new administration stands on the conflict.

Clinton, who, when running against Obama for the Democratic nomination, criticized Obama for his lack of foreign policy experience, has also been lambasted for her own lack of credentials, and over the course of nearly 20 years in the national spotlight has made a series of contradictory statements about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Departing from her then-president husband's position and what was then longstanding U.S. policy, Hillary Clinton in 1998 called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, a remark the White House later stepped back from. She again took flak from pro-Israel groups when, in 2000, she kissed Souha Arafat, the wife of then-Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

But since becoming the junior senator from New York in 2000, and in running this year for president, Clinton has avowed a staunchly pro-Israel position, telling ABC News that if Iran attacked Israel, the United States would "totally obliterate" it.

"Israelis and Palestinians know Bill Clinton and they know Hillary Clinton," said David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "The Palestinians remember her embracing Arafat's wife Souha, the Israelis remember her as the senator from New York who threatened Iran."

'A Mixed Legacy' in the Region

Having taken both pro-Palestinian positions and pro-Israeli positions may, in fact, strengthen her position as a diplomat and negotiator, rather than hurt it, said Tamara Wittes, a Brookings Institute fellow who specializes in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

"It is a mixed legacy that could serve her well on both sides," Wittes said.

"As senator from New York and on the campaign she was avowedly pro-Israel. There is fodder there for both optimists and pessimists from both sides," she said.

Clinton also brings to the table her name and the legacy of her husband's work to make peace.

"Her husband is warmly remembered by both Israelis and Palestinians as someone who understood their concerns and desires," Wittes said. "His efforts ultimately failed at the end of his presidency, but he received credit from both sides. He's probably the only person in the world who could get elected in Israel or the Palestinian territories."

But the conflict of 2008 is very different from where Bill Clinton left things in 2000, said retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"Clinton and Obama are faced with an entirely different game," Zinni said. "There are no strong leaders on either side. Leaders in both places are in trouble with their own constituencies and are weak."

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