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New Israeli and Palestinian leadership needed for Middle East peace deal: Hillary Clinton

SINGAPORE – New Israeli and Palestinian leadership is needed for any chance at a long-term peace deal, especially a two-state solution to the conflict in the Middle East, said former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Thursday.

“Hamas is not a partner for any kind of peace or two-state solution,” she said, but added that the Palestinian Authority and the new leadership in the Gaza Strip after the war might be.

The former top US diplomat was speaking via a video link at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, in dialogue with Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait.

Asked if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be a potential partner for a two-state solution, she replied: “I don’t think there is any evidence of that. I think the Israeli people will have to decide about his leadership.”

A poll conducted by Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper in mid-October found that as many as 80 per cent of Israelis believe Mr Netanyahu must take responsibility for the security failures exposed by Hamas’ attack on Israel.

On Oct 7, Hamas fighters breached Israel’s heavily fortified border fence with Gaza and killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians. Since then, Israel has laid siege to the coastal strip, killing more than 10,000 people, including children.

Mrs Clinton said Israel was unlikely to agree to a ceasefire at this point. This would effectively “freeze the situation in Hamas’ favour”, and would not undermine the militant group’s capacity to launch yet another attack on Israel.

But Israel was perhaps willing to have humanitarian pauses in the fighting, so that aid could enter Gaza to help civilians there and hostages taken by Hamas could leave, she added.

Asked if the United States felt overextended by the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, Mrs Clinton said that obtaining funding to support Israel and Ukraine as well as to keep US alliances strong would be challenging, but possible with tough negotiations.

In October, US President Joe Biden requested US$106 billion (S$144 billion) in congressional funding for Ukraine, Israel, humanitarian assistance including to Gaza, US border security and to counter China’s regional efforts in Asia.

The White House said on Wednesday that the US’ funds for Ukraine were 96 per cent depleted.

The US, Europe and other like-minded countries need to continue supporting Ukraine with the military equipment it needs, so that Ukrainians can defend themselves and “push as far as they can push”, said Mrs Clinton.

She spoke for about 25 minutes at the forum, which was attended by global corporate and government leaders at Capella Singapore hotel.

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Asked to comment on the highly anticipated meeting between Mr Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping slated to take place in San Francisco next week, she said this was a confidence-building opportunity.

There has been a “real chill coming from China” towards American businesses and political pressures against China within the American political system.

“This meeting is a terrific opportunity to try to reset the table,” she said, but added that this has to be followed with many more interactions.

Mrs Clinton expressed hope that Mr Xi would signal that “he sees it in China’s interest to really dig in with President Biden”, develop platforms for discussions and problem-solving as well as find ways to cooperate on issues of mutual interest.

“I think he will find a receptive partner with President Biden, if that’s available,” she added.

Mr Micklethwait also asked Mrs Clinton to comment on US economic engagements with Asia, observing that while South-east Asian countries were not able to secure trade deals with the US, they enjoyed “a whole menu of economic possibilities” with China.

Mrs Clinton said the US needs “a new era of realistic trade agreements” that take into account the concerns of stakeholders in the US.

Government and business leaders need to make the case that any agreement will benefit not just a few large multinational corporations, but also small and medium-sized businesses, consumers and workers, she said.

Referring to the withdrawal of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, she said the benefits of the free trade pact had not been adequately explained. The pact was later renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Singapore, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam are the Asian economies that are part of the agreement.

The US has to make a special effort to try talking once again about trade agreements, but make a case for these from the outset and not negotiate behind closed doors, she added.

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