Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to blame for the failed peace process with the Palestinians, according to former U.S. President Bill Clinton. In a discussion with bloggers Thursday at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, the former president lamented on past failures to achieve peace between the two countries and gave harsh criticism to the current prime minister.
"The two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics – which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not – were [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin's assassination and [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon's stroke," Clinton said, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
According to Clinton, with past leaders, peace seemed attainable. Now, however, Clinton says the Israeli leader is not interested in peace negotiations. According to Foreign Policy, Clinton claimed that Netanyahu lost interest in the peace process as soon as two basic Israeli demands seemed to become attainable: a viable Palestinian leadership and the possibility of normalizing ties with the Arab world.
“The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn't seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu," Clinton said, also noting that Israel wanted "to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there's no question – and the Netanyahu government has said – that this is the finest Palestinian government they've ever had in the West Bank."
However, Alan Luxenberg, acting president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), told The Christian Post that the government in the West Bank has been relatively effective, as Clinton pointed out. However, "there is still lots of corruption and no one in the West Bank seems willing or capable of doing something about the real impediment to peace, which is Hamas."
Hamas is a political party that runs the Gaza Strip, a section of Palestine. The United States has labeled it a terrorist organization.
Clinton continued, "[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if Netanyahu put up the deal that was offered to them before – my deal – that they would take it." He is referring to the 2000 Camp David accords that were rejected by Yasser Arafat, the Israel prime minister at the time. Clinton went on, seemingly puzzled at the idea that Arafat turned down that deal, saying he still doesn’t know why it was rejected.
However, according to Clinton, Israel is a completely different country now than it was back then.
"Now that they have those things, they don't seem so important to this current Israeli government, partly because it's a different country," said Clinton. "In the interim, you've had all these immigrants coming in from the former Soviet Union, and they have no history in Israel proper, so the traditional claims of the Palestinians have less weight with them."
Clinton said Arabs are the most pro-peace Israelis; then the Sabras, the Jewish Israelis born there; and then the Ashkenazi, the European Jews who came to Israel around the time of the country’s founding.
"The most anti-peace are the ultra-religious, who believe they're supposed to keep Judea and Samaria, and the settler groups, and what you might call the territorialists, the people who just showed up lately and they're not encumbered by the historical record,” Clinton said.
"That's what happened. Every American needs to know this. That's how we got to where we are," he noted. "The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu's government's continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he's just not going to give up the West Bank."
However, Natan Sharansky, one of those Soviet immigrants, Clinton said, "who just showed up lately" and who Clinton presumably thinks does not want peace, said in response to CBSNews: "I am particularly disappointed by the president's casual use of inappropriate stereotypes about Israelis, dividing their views on peace based on ethnic origins."
Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees with Sharansky and called Clinton’s assessment of “peace-loving” Israelis akin to “vulgar, pop sociology” and that “Clinton should be ashamed of himself” for making such comments. In a CBS editorial, he wrote that Clinton “appears entirely – in fact, embarrassingly – aware of what has actually happened to the Israelis right over the last 10 years.”
Abrams said it is Sharon who embraced Palestinian statehood in 2003. Netanyahu, Abrams said, also agreed to Palestinian statehood and the compromises it entailed. "These compromises, by the way, will be hard to make because, no matter what, they involve parts of our homeland. It is not a strange land, it is the land of our forefathers, to which we have historic rights as well as security interests,” Netanyahu remarked in the speech. He also said Israel "must maintain the settlement blocs," thereby tacitly acknowledging that every other settlement outside those few blocs may have to be given up.
Clinton continued Thursday, affirming that the United States should veto the Palestinian resolution at the U.N. Security Council for member-state status. He said that the Israelis need security guarantees before agreeing to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas made a bid for state membership to the United Nations Friday.
Luxenberg said he takes issue with Clinton's remarks.
"I find Clinton's remarks quite surprising. If there are Palestinians who would now accept the deal that was offered in 2000, why didn't they accept it when an even better offer was made by Ehud Olmert in 2008? Why didn't they negotiate with Netanyahu over the past two years? Why does Abbas insist on the so-called right of return which would negate the entire basis of the two-state solution?” Luxenberg asked.
"Netanyahu has accepted the principle of a two-state solution and has called for negotiations with no pre-conditions. He does not deserve all the credit that President Clinton would like to bestow upon him for blocking progress on negotiations."
Luxenberg also posed, "And how is Abbas going to sign a peace treaty when he doesn't even control the part of the territories governed by Hamas, a neo-genocidal group that insists on no compromise with the Israelis? Mr. Clinton is way off base."