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Clinton Lauded on Return Visit to Israel

Friday, August 3, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags: ,

ICEJ NEWS - 01/22/2002
Former US president Bill Clinton was warmly welcomed back to Israel this week, where he again blamed PLO chief Yasser Arafat for turning down his generous peace proposals more than a year ago and opting for violence. But at no time has Clinton shouldered any of the blame for crafting policies and a flawed negotiation strategy that left the region in flames as he departed the White House one year ago.

Clinton arrived in Israel on Sunday and has basked once again in widespread Israeli adoration for him. He first received an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University, now presided over by Itamar Rabinovich, a former close advisor to the late Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin.

The TAU degree was conferred in recognition of Clinton's "inspired personal efforts to achieve peace in different parts of the world, and particularly in the Middle East; his unwavering commitment to guaranteeing peace and security for Israel; and his
warm sentiments for Israel and its people, who esteem him as a great leader, brilliant statesman, and beloved friend."

On Monday, Clinton met with President Moshe Katsav, visited Rabin's grave, made an impromptu visit to the site of a recent terrorist bombing at Kikar Zion in Jerusalem, held talks with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and lunched with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before returning to Tel Aviv to deliver a $100,000 speech to the Ness hi-tech conference.

At the TAU gathering, Clinton aimed criticism at Arafat, saying last year he "missed a golden opportunity." Clinton added that, "Leaders have to prepare people for peace by saying compromise is honorable, not shameful, and is a sign of strength, not of weakness."

Clinton pleaded with Israelis to "be ready" if "a miracle" yet occurs and the opportunity for peace presents itself again. "Don't give up and don't give in," a visibly emotional Clinton said at a dinner in his honor. Clinton said the intifada violence had "not changed the fundamental reality... We have the outlines of a reasonable proposal."

He also emphasized the Palestinians will not be able to achieve their ends through violence. "It is important that the United States and the European Union make it clear that they will not stand by and allow the destruction of Israel by slow attritions or rapid attacks," he said. "The suicide bombing has to stop."

Clinton also backed the pressure his successor, President George W. Bush, has put on Arafat to crack down on terrorism.

Sharon described Clinton as "an honorable leader and true friend of Israel," and said his unwavering commitment to the Jewish people and steadfast partnership with Israel are valued. "You have captured the hearts of us all," he said.

Clinton is considered by many Israelis and American Jews as the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House, a reputation garnished by his refrain "Shalom, Haver" [Goodbye, Friend] delivered at Rabin's funeral in November 1995. This status is based largely on the open access Jewish and Israeli leaders enjoyed at the Clinton White House and his extensive personal involvement in trying to broker landmark peace deals between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Yet as for his actual record towards the Jewish State, it is less than stellar, marred in particular by his manipulation of Israeli public opinion, especially at election time, to suit his own political agenda.

For instance, the Clinton Administration purposefully orchestrated a rift with former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his bid for re-election against Ehud Barak in May 1999. And Clinton dispatched his own team of campaign advisors to help get Barak elected. When Barak won handily, Clinton told reporters he was as happy "as a kid with a new toy."

In another prime example, Israeli Arab leaders insist that Clinton's ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, promised to fund a get-out-the-vote campaign in the Arab sector in the event of a public referendum on ceding the Golan to Syria.

Finally, after Arafat rejected Barak's far-reaching concessions at the Camp David summit in July 2000, Clinton went on Israeli television to try to stave off the collapse of the Barak government by promising a package of goodies that were never delivered. This included pledges to re-consider moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; a review and upgrade of the US-Israel strategic alliance; and a special military assistance package to compensate for Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon, to name a few.

In addition, the opportunity presented by the Oslo accords early in Clinton's presidency appears to have been squandered, largely because the Clinton Administration never held Arafat and the Palestinians accountable to uphold their end of the deal. Clinton admitted during his visit here that Arafat is now threatened by Islamic militants - groups that should have never been allowed to put down roots in Palestinian-ruled areas during the interim Oslo period.

Several Israeli papers tended to agree with the more sober assessment of Clinton's record. A Ma'ariv editorial this week said, "Clinton is, was, and remains, a sweet illusion, an unrealized dream... His diplomatic plan from Camp David... was not accepted by the Palestinians... [and] even in Israel, it did not have a majority, and will not in the near future."

An editorial in The Jerusalem Post stated, "There is no doubt that Israelis continue to be captivated by Clinton's charisma, and revel in the warmth that he is able to project. In a more profound sense, however, Clinton's presidency was a dangerous one for Israel, and his approach toward peace-making fundamentally flawed."

Meanwhile, a commentary on Clinton's visit in the left-leaning Ha'aretz ran under the headline "If only he were still president."

ICEJ. Used with Permission.

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