Clinton on the Record, from Oslo to Camp David
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Clinton on the Record, from Oslo to Camp David

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Bill Clinton covers a range of issues in his 957-page autobiography, “My Life.” Following are excerpts. On a brush with anti-Semitism in New York:

“I lived in a southern town with two synagogues and a fair number of anti-Semites who referred to Jews as ‘Christ-killers,’ but I was surprised to find anti-Semitism alive and well in New York. I guess I should have been reassured to know the South didn’t have a corner on racism or anti-Semitism, but I wasn’t.”

Clinton discusses getting Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to attend the September 1993 White House signing of the Declaration of Principles behind the Oslo peace accord:

“I badly wanted Rabin and Arafat to attend and urged them to do so; if they didn’t, no one in the region would believe they were fully committed to implementing the principles, and, if they did, a billion people across the globe would see them on! television and they would leave the White House even more committed to peace than when they arrived.”

Arafat, however, wanted to wear a revolver:

“I balked and sent word that he couldn’t bring the gun. He was here to make peace; the pistol would send the wrong message, and he certainly would be safe without it.”

Clinton strove to get Arafat and Rabin to shake hands. Rabin was reluctant:

“I told Yitzhak that if he was really committed to peace, he’d have to shake Arafat’s hand to prove it.”

Before long, Clinton writes, “Rabin and Arafat would develop a remarkable working relationship, a tribute to Arafat’s regard for Rabin and the Israeli leader’s uncanny ability to understand how Arafat’s mind worked.”

Clinton learns of Rabin’s assassination:

“By the time he was killed, I had come to love him as I had rarely loved another man. In the back of my mind, I suppose I always knew he had put his life at risk, but I couldn’t imagine him gone, and I did! n’t know what I would or could do in the Middle East without him.”

Clinton discusses his decision to say “Shalom, chaver” — Hebrew for “Goodbye, friend” — at Rabin’s funeral. The phrase since has become famous in Israel:

“I had a number of Jewish staff members who spoke Hebrew and knew how I felt about Rabin; I am still grateful that they gave me the phrase. Shimon Peres later told me that chaver means more than mere friendship; it evokes the comradeship of soul mates in common cause. Soon, ‘Shalom, chaver’ began to appear on billboards and bumper stickers all across Israel.”

Clinton recalls his historic December 1998 speech to the Palestinian National Council in Gaza:

“Just before I got up to speak, almost all the delegates raised their hands in support of removing the provision calling for the destruction of Israel from their charter. It was the moment that made the whole trip worthwhile. You could almost hear the sighs of relief in Israel; perhaps Israelis and Palestinians actually could share the land and the future after! all.”

On the Camp David summit in July 2000:

“It was frustrating and profoundly sad. There was little difference between the two sides on how the affairs of Jerusalem would actually be handled; it was all about who got to claim sovereignty.”

Efforts continued to reach a peace agreement that fall, as Clinton’s term drew rapidly to a close:

“It was assumed that Palestine would get the Muslim and Christian quarters, with Israel getting the other two. Arafat argued that he should have a few blocks of the Armenian quarter because of the Christian churches there. I couldn’t believe he was talking to me about this.”

“At times Arafat seemed confused, not wholly in command of the facts. I had felt for some time that he might not be at the top of his game any longer, after all the years of spending the night in different places to dodge assassins’ bullets, all the countless hours on airplanes, all the endless hours of tension-filled talks. Perhaps he simply coul! dn’t make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman.”

“Arafat never said no; he just couldn’t bring himself to say yes. Pride goeth before the fall.”

Just before Clinton left office, he spoke with Arafat on the phone:

Arafat “thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was. ‘Mr. Chairman, I replied, ‘I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.’ I warned Arafat that he was single-handedly electing Sharon and that he would reap the whirlwind.”

“Nearly a year after I left office, Arafat said he was ready to negotiate on the basis of the parameters I had presented. Apparently, Arafat had thought the time to decide, five minutes to midnight, had finally come. His watch had been broken a long time.”

On Israel-Syria peace talks:

“Before he was killed, Yitzhak Rabin had given me a commitment to withdraw from the Golan to the June 4, 1967 borders as long as Israel’s concerns were satisfied. The commitment was given on the condition that I keep it ‘in my pocket’ until it could be formally! presented to Syria in the context of a complete solution.”

At peace talks in Shepherdstown, W.Va. in January 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak took a go-slow strategy:

“Barak had not been in politics long, and I thought he had gotten some very bad advice.”

On his decision not to pardon Jonathan Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst and American Jew convicted of spying for Israel:

“For all the sympathy Pollard generated in Israel, he was a hard case to push in America; he had sold our country’s secrets for money, not conviction, and for years had not shown any remorse.”

Plus, CIA Director George Tenet objected to Pollard’s release, threatening to resign if he were pardoned:

“I didn’t want to do it, and Tenet’s comments closed the door.”

Clinton had to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had demanded Pollard’s release in exchange for Israeli concessions at the 1998 Wye River Plantation talks with the Palestinians, to agr! ee to the deal even without Pollard:

“I told Netanyahu that I would review the case seriously and try to work through it with Tenet and the national security team, but that Netanyahu was better off with a security agreement that he could count on than he would have been with the release of Pollard.”

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