The Fading Clinton Initiative
By Moshe Zak
January, 03 2001
Someone misled Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and sold him an illusion that President Bill Clinton’s last days in the White House were the “last chance” for a settlement with the Palestinians. In his telephone conversation with Clinton on Monday night Barak admitted that the chances of reaching an instant settlement with Yasser Arafat are very slim.
Although Clinton desires to enter history as the person who succeeded in bridging the diametrically opposed positions of Israel and the Palestinians, he cannot perform miracles. Even if the Palestinians agree to his outline, he cannot obligate the Bush administration to implement the financial bait that he is offering the Palestinians in the form of multi-billion-dollar budgets for resettling their refugees. He will also encounter difficulties in making Congress agree to sending American soldiers to participate in the international force supervising the Jordan Valley.
Despite his good intentions, Clinton is incapable of fulfilling the promises he made to Barak at Camp David last July, after Israel agreed in principle to the division of Jerusalem. The promises included upgrading the strategic relations between Israel and the US. This upgrading has already been forgotten.
Clinton promised to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem before January, and he has already publicly declared that he has retracted this promise.
There was also a concrete commitment to provide Israel with special aid totaling $450 million, to cover the costs incurred as a result of the withdrawal from Lebanon. The commitment was held up in the outgoing Congress.
The mistake was even greater regarding the Palestinians. It gave Arafat a tremendous advantage in the negotiations with Israel and the US. January 20, Clinton’s last day in the White House, and February 6, the date of the elections for the Israeli prime minister, are not inherently significant dates in the course of Arafat’s struggle for Palestinian independence.
However, for those whose lives revolve around these dates, they are forced to conduct negotiations under the fire of Palestinian terror.
The urgency of the dates for Barak and Clinton caused Barak to enter a tailspin, and, despite his earlier declarations, he agreed to renew negotiations with Arafat, whose people are firing at Jewish neighborhoods and traffic arteries. Even the former head of the GSS, Maj.-Gen (res.) Ami Ayalon, who regularly met with Arafat and whose moderate stance regarding the Palestinian question is well known, expressed his opposition this week to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations held under the pressure of ongoing terror.
Prime Minister Barak takes comfort from the thought that if the Palestinians reject “Clinton’s ideas” as a basis for negotiations, Israel can begin a PR campaign in which it will accuse the Palestinian Authority of not being ripe for peace. This is an empty threat, since Barak has already made use of it, after the failure of the Camp David talks last July. The Palestinians were not frightened by these accusations, since they were convinced that Israel would return with further concessions.
Barak’s other consolation, in the event of the failure of the current move, is that the discussions with the US about the Palestinian issue will increase Israeli-American understanding. No one disputes that understanding with the US is vital to Israel. However, Clinton’s ideas, that were conceived under the pressure of time and of the intifada, do not express the full weight of Clinton’s personal friendship with Israel. On the contrary, they occasionally include regression from the promises of former US presidents.
For instance, the Clinton plan refers to the division of Jerusalem, while the Rogers plan (1969) and the Reagan plan (1982), which Israel rejected out of hand, specified that Jerusalem must remain united and that both sides (Israelis and Arabs) must conduct negotiations regarding cooperation in the city. It is true that the US has never recognized Israel’s rule in east Jerusalem, but it has always referred to the unity of Jerusalem. In the Clinton plan, this unity has disappeared.
The emphasis on Israel’s security needs when drawing up the borders is also missing from Clinton’s proposal.
For the sake of saving face Clinton will have to skip his ambitious plans and accept Barak’s proposal for a substitute joint declaration on combating terror. But Arafat prefers to deal with Israel and the US under the fire of the intifada, forgetting his letter to Yitzhak Rabin four days before the signing of the Oslo accords in which he undertook not to resort to violence. He shows no readiness to accept the “Clinton outline” unless he is offered more concessions under the heading of clarifications. To this goal he met yesterday with Clinton in Washington.
It is hoped Barak learned his lesson from the erroneous concept of reaching a quick accord with Arafat, and he won’t be trapped by Arafat’s new game.