Dear Mr. President:
We are writing about the Middle East peace process,
and the published reports of a disagreement between our Administration
and the Israeli government that may lead to the United States publicly
presenting a peace proposal which is known to be unacceptable to
Israel. We hope these reports are not true.
At the heart of the Oslo peace process is a central
understanding, a core bargain: land for peace. Israel cedes land and
political authority to the Palestinians in exchange for which the
Palestinians provide peace and security to Israel by rescinding their
stated intention to destroy Israel, and vowing to fight those who
continue to perpetuate acts of terror and violence against Israel.
This bargain was inherently more difficult for
Israel since land is easier to give but harder to withdraw, and peace
is harder to give but easier to withdraw. In fact, since the Oslo
process began, Israel has yielded virtually all of the Gaza Strip and
27% of the West Bankwhere 98% of the Palestinians liveto the
Palestinian Authority for civil administration.
During the same period of time the Palestinian
intifada has ended and cooperative contacts between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority have increased, but the fact is that many
Palestinians continue to use terror and violence as a political tool
against Israel. Chairman Arafat, himself, repeatedly threatens renewal
of widespread violence and continues to withhold full security
cooperation with Israel.
Since Israel's withdrawal from Hebron in
fulfillment of its Oslo promise last year, there has been no progress
in the peace process. We share your Administration's frustration with
this lack of movement, but believe it would be a serious mistake for
the United States to change from its traditional role as facilitator
of the peace process to using public pressure against Israel. This
would be particularly unfair and counterproductive since Israel has
kept the promises it made at Oslo, and today is prepared to withdraw
from even more territory of the West Bank before final status
negotiations, territory that is qualitatively important to the
Palestinians' desire for self-governance.
On the other hand, the Palestinians have not
provided Israel with adequate security and Chairman Arafat has refused
to conclude negotiations for the remaining interim status issues, even
though Israel's current offers move the Palestinian people
significantly forward in their quest for self-governance. Chairman
Arafat may hope that American frustration with the pace of the process
will lead to an American decision to force even more from Israel.
Instead, the United States should quietly urge the Palestinians to
accept Israel's latest offer and move to final status negotiations.
America's commitment to Israel's security
undergirds the entire peace process and provides Israel the confidence
it needs to take very real risks for peace. As you know, Secretary
Christopher made a written commitment that it would be up to Israel to
decide the size and scope of further redeployments of Israeli forces
on the West Bank. Presenting an American planespecially one that
includes a specific redeployment figure beyond what Israel believes to
be in its national security interest before final status
arrangementsruns counter to Secretary Christopher's commitment and
can only undermine Israel's confidence.
American Middle East diplomacy, as you know and
have shown so well, has always worked best when pursued quietly and in
concert with Israel. We strongly urge you to continue our critical
role as facilitator of a process that can ultimately succeed only
through the direct negotiations by the parties themselves.