Former US president Bill Clinton indicated that he believes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t make peace with the Palestinians unless he is forced to do so, and said that in 2000 he managed to get concessions from Israel’s Ehud Barak that “I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to.”
Clinton made the comments during the Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa, on Sunday as he spoke to fans at the end of the event. His statements were recorded by a cameraman from the C-Span network.
The former president was approached by a small group of pro-Palestinian activists who questioned him about the Middle East peace process. According to Haaretz writer Chemi Shalev, one of the activists, Pat Minor, put it to Clinton that Yasser Arafat had turned down a peace deal at Camp David in 2000 because of a disagreement over water rights.
Clinton began to dispute the statement but was interrupted by another activist who said of Netanyahu, “If we don’t force him to have peace, we won’t have peace.”
“First of all, I agree with that,” Clinton said. “But in 2000, [former prime minister] Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.”
Clinton was referring to assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who, together with Arafat and Clinton himself, signed the Oslo Peace Accords on the White House lawn in 1993 en route to putting areas of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control.
“But Netanyahu is not the guy,” suggested the activist.
“I agree with that, but…I had him [Arafat] a state… He would have gotten 96% of the West Bank, land swaps in Gaza, appropriate water rights and East Jerusalem, something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office,” Clinton replied. “And by the way, don’t forget, both Arafat and Abbas later said they would take it — ‘We changed our minds, we want it now’ — but by then they had a [Israeli] government [that] wouldn’t give it to them.”
At that point Clinton’s entourage escorted him away from the group, breaking off the exchange.
Former senator Hillary Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016 even though she has not yet announced her candidacy, was accompanying her husband at the event but avoided being drawn into commenting on the peace process.
In May, former president Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, in which he revealed details of why the 2000 Camp David peace effort failed.
Israel, he said, under prime minister Barak, agreed to hand the Palestinians control of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the compound where al-Aqsa Mosque is situated, on the condition that the area around the Western Wall remain under Israel’s control.
Arafat agreed to leave Israel with control over the Western Wall, as well as over the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, but insisted on keeping 16 meters, or 50 feet, of land leading up to an entrance to the Western Wall tunnels under Palestinian control.
Israel refused, on the grounds that the tunnel granted access to remains of the ancient Jewish temples. In retrospect, Clinton said, Israel was probably justified in its refusal, arguing that “if you got in, you could do mayhem to the ruins of the temples.”