WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Palestinians have missed multiple opportunities for peacemaking, but the Israelis have shown a lack of empathy, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.
"I think Israelis have good grounds to be suspicious" of Palestinians as a result of the stalled peace process, Clinton said last Friday at an event held in her honor in Washington by the Saban Forum, an annual assembly of U.S. and Israeli leaders.
"The Palestinians could have had a state as old as I am if they had made the right decision in 1947," she said. "They could have had a state if they had worked with my husband and then-Prime Minister Barak at Camp David. They could have had a state if they’d worked with Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni."
Clinton was referring to negotiations in 2000 between Ehud Barak and Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat facilitated by President Bill Clinton, and then the 2007-08 negotiations between Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas under the auspices of President George W. Bush.
Clinton blasted those who claim Israel was principally to blame for the collapse of the 2000 talks.
"I don’t care how many people try to revise that history, the fact is [Arafat] said no at Camp David," she said.
And while Clinton said she was not fully satisfied with the 2010 partial settlement freeze instituted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she said it also was a missed opportunity for Abbas.
"It wasn’t perfect, it didn’t cover East Jerusalem, but it covered much of the contested area in the West Bank," she said. "But the fact was it was a 10-month settlement freeze. And [Netanyahu] was good to his word. And we couldn’t get the Palestinians into the conversation until the 10th month."
Clinton suggested that the resultant Israeli suspicion and "the lack of generosity, the lack of empathy" was inhibiting peace moves.
"There is more that the Israelis need to do to really demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people in their minds, and they want to figure out, within the bounds of security and a Jewish democratic state, what can be accomplished," she said.
Clinton, who plans to step down early next year, said an Obama administration priority continued to be reviving peace talks.
She said ensuring Israel’s security by keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and assisting Israel in ending missile fire over its borders was a necessary component, but urged Israelis to cultivate, not sideline, moderates like Abbas.
"At a time when violence commands attention, America and Israel must do better at demonstrating not just the costs of extremism but the benefits of cooperation and coexistence," she said.
The Saban Forum is convened by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, a subsidiary of the Brookings Institution largely funded by Haim Saban, the entertainment mogul who aggressively backed Clinton in her bid in 2008 for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Friday’s proceedings started with a video feting Clinton that also appeared to urge her to run in 2016. It included praise from an array of leaders, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Netanyahu, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.
Blair and Netanyahu said in the video that they believed Clinton would return to politics.
Also appearing at the Saban Forum were Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert.
Olmert would not say whether he would run in the January elections in Israel, but promised to announce his decision this week.
He pledged to do his best to unseat Netanyahu, whom he said blundered by opposing last week’s U.N. vote elevating the Palestinian status to non-member observer state, and then by announcing new settlement building in apparent retaliation — something that Olmert called a "slap in the face" to President Obama coming after his support for Israel during the mini-war with Hamas in Gaza last month.
Liberman said Abbas was an untrustworthy partner and defended the settlement announcement.