My friend Jeff Dunetz, who picked this up from Ha’aretz, says Bill Clinton trashed Benjamin Netantyahu in this conversation at Tom Harkin’s steak fry this weekend. It sounds more like Clinton attacking the late Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, though. An attendee tries to get Clinton to endorse the idea of imposing a peace agreement on Israel and Netanyahu, with which Clinton agrees … kind of:
Q: If we don’t force him to have peace, we won’t have peace.
CLINTON: First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, 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.
Q: I agree. But Netanyahu is not the guy.
CLINTON: I agree with that, but they [the Palestinians] 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. And by the way, don’t forget, both Arafat and Abbas later said they would take it: “We changed our minds, we’ll take it now.” But by then the Israeli government wouldn’t give it to them.
Jeff argues that this exposes the anti-Israel tendencies of the Clintons, and Politico also reported the conversation as “a shot at Netanyahu.” To me, though, this sounds like Clinton laying the blame entirely on the Palestinians. And well he might; Clinton got the Israelis to take a daring stance on the land-for-peace initiative, which Clinton credits to Barak and Rabin in this conversation. Clinton himself took a large political risk here in the US for leaning on Barak and Rabin to get them to make that offer, only to have Arafat and Abbas throw it back in his face and start the intifada instead.
Later, they may or may not have regretted their decision as Clinton suggests, but they clearly passed up the best deal they could ever have gotten, and certainly won’t get that from Israel in the future after the intifadas and wars that followed. The security wall, for which Palestinians have some legitimate complaints, became necessary to protect Israel as a result of that rejection and Arafat’s terror campaign afterward. It was that rejection and the war Arafat and Abbas chose which made Netanyahu’s dominance of Israeli politics (and Ariel Sharon before him) entirely predictable, and entirely inevitable.
It’s no secret that Netanyahu isn’t popular among liberal politicians in the US. That was true when Bill was President, and it was just as true when Hillary was Secretary of State. Conceding that point at a rally for a hard-Left politician like Harkin is more or less expected. It’s interesting, and still rather telling, that Clinton still bears enough of a grudge against Abbas and Arafat 14 years later to argue that point in this kind of venue — and it’s a healthy reminder of why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still not resolved.