As TheBlaze reported earlier this month, a $500,000 speaking fee paid by pro-Israel charities to former President Bill Clinton sparked intense criticism from senior Israeli media figures. In exchange for the large honorarium paid a year in advance to the William J. Clinton Foundation, Clinton agreed to speak at an event honoring Israeli President Shimon Peres, Israeli media reported.
So what did the former president say during his Monday night appearance in which he delivered a speech and took questions?
While his focus was to encourage Israel to work toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians, Clinton also said he would donate the speaking fee back to one of the charities originally involved, the Peres Academic Center. The Center says it will use those funds for student scholarships, according to the Jerusalem Post.
As for the crux of his message, Clinton promoted the two-state solution -- because “the Palestinians are having more babies” -- and at the same time criticized the building of housing for Jews in the West Bank, sticking to the long-held U.S. policy opposing settlement construction.
“You have to cobble together some kind of theory of a two-state solution, and the longer you let this go just because of sheer demographics the tougher it’s going to get,” Clinton said according to the Jerusalem Post. “I don’t see any alternative to a Palestinian state.”
“No matter how many settlers you put out there [in the West Bank], the Palestinians are having more babies than the Israelis as a whole…You’ve got an existential question to answer,” Clinton said, suggesting that if Israel doesn’t cede land to the Palestinians, it risks losing its identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
Clinton also said that Israel’s cautious attitude regarding the volatile upheaval gripping its Middle Eastern neighbors makes sense, and used the point as an opportunity to encourage negotiations.
“But if all you do is prepare for the worst and you don’t work for the best then there is no possibility of ever seeing the triumph of creative cooperation,” Clinton said.
The Times of Israel reports:
The former US president made plain repeatedly that he shared Peres’s vision of peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians, and gently intimated that he considered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach overly bleak and cautious.
Some people are more risk-averse, he said, while “some people including President Peres and I believe that risk is part of life and you have to keep on trying to make good things happen….”
“If you don’t have a vision of where you want to wind up,” he said, “bad things are going to happen sooner or later… You have a better chance if you are driven by a vision of peace and reconciliation.”
“I’m like President Peres. I don’t see any alternative to a Palestinian state,” he said. “You’re going to have to share the future. Paint a picture in your mind of the future you want to have and take the logical steps to achieve it.”
It’s unclear how Clinton’s message will resonate with Israelis. The Oslo peace process was driven by Clinton, Peres and slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but the optimistic vision they presented in 1993 has resulted in a far more sobering reality.
Not only did the withdrawal of Israelis from Gaza result in the Hamas terrorist group’s takeover of the strip, more Israelis have been killed in terror attacks since the signing of the Oslo Accords than before.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “From the signing of Oslo Accords (Sept. 1993) until September 2000 - nearly 300 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks. During the Palestinian Al-Aqsa Intifada (Sept. 2000 - Dec. 2005) another 1,100 Israelis were killed. Since December 2005, Palestinian terrorist attacks have claimed at least another 130 Israeli lives.”
Clinton did tip his hat to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for trying to reach an agreement with the Palestinians when he was first prime minister during the late 1990s that would have given the Palestinians “more of the West Bank than they have today.” He also complimented Netanyahu for freezing settlement construction during part of President Barack Obama’s first term in office.
On Tuesday, Israel’s Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel told Army Radio that Israeli construction in Judea, Samaria (West Bank) and east Jerusalem was being frozen as a gesture to the Obama administration.
Secretary of State John Kerry has made repeated visits to the region since taking office in an effort to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Clinton said, “Things are going to hell in a handbasket all around you.” But, he added, “Your neighbors are still your neighbors…One way or the other, you’re going to share your future with them.”
Clinton recounted how in 1993 he had to convince PLO leader Yasser Arafat to leave his gun at home and not bring the pistol he always wore around his waist to the Oslo Accords signing on the White House lawn.
“I said ‘You know, we’re going to have a peace signing. You don’t need a gun here.’”
Referencing the 1995 assassination of Rabin, Clinton said that “the saddest day of my presidency was the day Prime Minister Rabin lost his life.”
“Never a week goes by, even now, that I don’t think of him and that I don’t think of the burdens Shimon [Peres] took on in the wake of that day,” Clinton said.
“I love this country more than I have words to say,” the former president added.
Clinton will also take part in the President’s Conference hosted by Peres this week in Jerusalem along with other world leaders including Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as top Hollywood figures including Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone and Robert De Niro.
Here is video from Ynet of a segment of Clinton's speech where he spoke about preparing Rabin and Arafat for the White House Oslo signing ceremony: