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Bill Clinton Administration:
News Conferences & Interviews on the Middle East/Israel

(1998)


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JANUARY 19, 1998

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Are you discouraged about the advance word that Prime Minister Netanyahu may not have anything to say that would advance the peace process?

The President. Well, I'm looking forward to the meeting. I'm committed to making it a success. I'm going to do my part, and I just want us to have constructive relations where we can move this forward. And I've been working on it all morning; that's why I'm a little late here today. I'm going to be prepared to reach out a hand in cooperation to both the Prime Minister and to Mr. Arafat and we'll see what happens. But I've got high hopes. I've worked hard on it. The United States, I think, is viewed rightly as a country that just wants a just, stable, and lasting peace. And we're all going to have to make some moves if we're going to get there. But I'm looking forward to this meeting.

JANUARY 20, 1998

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, on the Middle East, Mr. Arafat is talking with some threatening phrases, speaking of maybe the intifada will be resumed. And of course, the Prime Minister said last night that's no way to negotiate. How do you feel about——

The President. I agree with that. I think if he makes an observation that if this whole thing fails, that it won't be good, then that's understandable. But I don't think it should be encouraged. I've really looked forward to this week. I've worked hard to get ready for the meeting. I'm anxious to begin my sixth meeting with the Prime Minister and then to see Mr. Arafat in a couple of days. And I think we have to have a positive attitude. We need to be reassuring to people. We don't want to undermine any confidence. We need to keep working.

Q. Mr. President, you said yesterday that you had high hopes, and that seems out of step with some of the views of your top officials here. What makes you have high hopes for these talks?

The President. Well, I've often been out of step, in having high hopes, with a lot of people. It may be a defect in my nature, but I think—for one thing I think that Israel wants peace and a resolution of this. And I believe that it's very much in the interests of the Palestinians and Mr. Arafat to seek to resolve it, and we're working very hard. I've just found that, more often than not, you ultimately have success if you stay at something and keep working at it in good faith.

Q. Mr. President, could you just tell us what you believe a credible withdrawal would be? And does Chairman Arafat need to do anything before such a withdrawal should take place?

The President. I think that's a conversation I need to have with the Prime Minister first. I don't—and I will do that.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's Cabinet

Q. Mr. Netanyahu, may I ask you one question, please? Are you in a more difficult situation because of the new makeup of your Cabinet, because it's a smaller coalition? Is it more difficult for you to make concessions and to negotiate?

Prime Minister Netanyahu. This is a difficult day for me because I've lost a good friend, the Deputy Premier and Minister of Education. But the composition of the government is irrelevant. The people who could topple the government before Mr. Levi departed could topple it after he departed. And I say to them what I say to everyone here and to President Clinton: We made a decision to go to peace. This is what this government is about, peace with security. And I am sure that I can muster the necessary support across the government and across the coalition for something that will move the peace process forward and maintain secure and defensible boundaries for Israel.

Q. And you believe you have enough support within your now more limited government to pass any sort of vote for withdrawal, for further Israeli withdrawal?

Prime Minister Netanyahu. For a withdrawal that will ensure our defenses, that is what we're prepared to do. We're prepared to move forward, but not to jeopardize the security of the State of Israel.

[At this point, one group of reporters left the room, and another group entered.]

Prime Minister Netanyahu's Visit

The President. Welcome. Let me just briefly say that I am delighted to see the Prime Minister again. This is our sixth meeting. I'm looking forward to it. We're working hard to make progress, and I want to reaffirm to the people of Israel the strong support of the United States for Israel and the strong support of the United States for the security of Israel and a peace process that proceeds within that commitment. And I think we can succeed.

Q. Mr. President, what are your expectations from the meeting with the Prime Minister?

The President. That we're going to have a good-faith, detailed, frank discussion and do our best to make some progress. And I think we've got a chance to do that.

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Are you going to pressure Mr. Netanyahu to give concessions to the Palestinians?

The President. I'm going to have a discussion with him about where we think the peace process is. I wouldn't use that word. Israel has to make its own decisions about its own security and its own future.

Q. Who do you think is breaching the agreement more severely, more seriously, the Israelis or the Palestinians?

The President. I don't think it's fruitful to discuss that. I think what we ought to talk about is what both sides can do now to get the peace process moving again. That's the most important thing.

JANUARY 21, 1998

Middle East Peace Process

Mr. Siegel. Moving on to the matter you were working on late at night last night. First, it seems the message to Mr. Netanyahu from the U.S. was, we want to see you withdraw from some part of the West Bank. First, what's the message to Yasser Arafat, if you could sum it up?

The President. Well, first of all, let's talk about what they want. I think what Israel wants is a peace process that moves immediately to final status negotiations and gives them a stronger sense of security. I think what the Palestinians want is a peace process that gives them a stronger sense of self-determination and possibility and dignity.

So what we've tried to do—for 12 months now, ever since the Hebron redeployment, we have been out involved in the region, talking to all the players—that's not the royal "we," I mean me, the Secretary of State, Mr. Ross, Mr. Berger, others involved—trying to analyze what it would take to get the peace process back on track. And we've formulated some ideas and we talked to the Israeli Prime Minister about them yesterday; we're going to talk to Mr. Arafat about them tomorrow. We hope that by the time we finish the talk that both sides will be closer together than they were before we started. And if they are, then we'll try to close. But I think there may be circumstances under which we could take a real leap forward in the Middle East peace process if we get a break or two.

Mr. Siegel. This week?

The President. No, I wouldn't go that far. It's going to take a while. We have to work with the Palestinians tomorrow, then we have to analyze where we are with both and whether we can go forward. And we may not make any progress at all. And if we don't, I'll tell you that.

Mr. Siegel. I'd like to ask you, though, after spending so much time with Mr. Netanyahu on this visit and on other visits, some people regard him as a man who always opposed a land for peace settlement to the conflict with the Palestinians, certainly wouldn't have negotiated the Oslo accords had he been in office then, has never liked them particularly. Some would say he's really trying to thwart that process and contain the damage from his standpoint. Do you think so?

The President. No, I can't say that based on what I've seen. I do believe—he's made no secret of the fact that he has principle differences with the Oslo process, which he has pledged to support. And we all know he has a different political coalition, and that indeed, the political forces in Israel itself are different than they were even a few years ago in terms of the composition of the population, the rise of these small parties and immigrant-related intense groups and all that.

So I think that's all there. I think that, historically, there's been a little bit of difference in the kind of the texture of the relationship between the Likud Party and the Palestinians and the Labor Party and the Palestinians. So there are a lot of layers here.

But the bottom line is, I think, Mr. Netanyahu is an intelligent man who wants to make peace and understands that there has to be some formula where some marginal increase in territorial insecurity by giving up land is more than offset by a dramatic increase in security by changing the feelings of the people, the climate, the capacity for growth and opportunity.

So we're just trying to hammer out what each side will have to do to take another step. I'm hopeful.

MAY 6, 1998

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Sir, Israel's Prime Minister says he won't accept U.S. dictates in the Middle East peace process. What will you do if Israel rebuffs the U.S. proposal for a 13 percent withdrawal?

President Clinton. Well, I don't believe Israel or any other country should accept the dictates of the United States in a peace process. We cannot and we should not attempt to impose a peace on parties because they have to live with the consequences. What we have tried to do for a good year now is to listen to both parties, look at the situation on the ground, understand their respective concerns, and come forward with a set of ideas that we believe are most likely to get the parties to final status talks.

Keep in mind, they're supposed to finish these talks a year from this month, by their own agreement. Now, the ideas we put forth, as Secretary Albright said, were accepted in principle by Mr. Arafat. The Prime Minister said he was unable to do so, but he asked that he be permitted to go home—not permitted, but that he be given time to go home and talk through with his Cabinet what might be an acceptable position, bring it back to us and see if we could bring the parties together. That is what we are trying to do.

And keep in mind what we are trying to do. We are not talking about here a final settlement of all the outstanding issues between Israel and the Palestinians. We are talking about a settlement of sufficient number of issues that will permit them to get into the final status talks within the framework embodied by the agreement signed here in September of '93.

And the first person to advocate a more rapid movement to the final status was Prime Minister Netanyahu. I have tried to find a way actually to do what he suggested. He said, "The facts have changed. The Government is different. Things are different than they used to be. Let's go on and go to final status talks and try to resolve all this at once in a package." I thought it made a lot of sense at the time, and I have done my best for a year now to find the formula that would unlock the differences between them to get them into those final status talks. That's all I'm trying to do. There's no way in the world I could impose an agreement on them or dictate their security to them, even if I wished to do that, which I don't, because when the agreement is over, whether it's in the Middle East or Ireland or Bosnia or anyplace else, they have to live with the consequences.

Q. Will you go Monday, if it's not—[inaudible].

President Clinton. Well, I expect to do—first of all, we are working—let's wait and see what, if anything, Prime Minister Netanyahu comes back with. Let's wait and see, and then see where we are. I hope very much—I would like very much if we could get the parties together so they could get into the final status talks. I do believe if they could get over this hurdle, if they could demonstrate good faith to one another, and then they got in the final status talks and everything were on the table, all the outstanding pieces, then I think that give-and-take would be more likely to produce a final agreement.

So I'm very anxious to get them over this hill, so they can get into discussing the final arrangements. That's one thing I thought Prime Minister Netanyahu was right about, but I hope that both sides will help us get there. That's what we're trying to do.

MAY 13, 1998

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Do you blame Netanyahu for the deadlock in the peace process in the Middle East?

President Clinton. Well, my experience in these things, which is mounting up now, indicates that the public placement of blame is not very productive if what you really want to do is get the parties to talk again.

Let me tell you what the facts are. Fifteen months ago we were asked by Prime Minister Netanyahu to explore whether or not there was some way we could facilitate, if you will, an acceleration of the Oslo process, which was embodied in the peace signing in September of '93 in Washington, to move, more or less, immediately to final status talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

He pointed out that a lot of these issues were highly contentious, especially for his government, and it would be better to make—to put them all together in one big package and try to make—have as few votes as possible to ratify the process. And I, frankly, thought he had a good idea. I thought it then, and I think it now.

And for a year and some odd months, we have worked very hard to try to find a formula which will enable the parties to take one more step in the process started at Oslo, and then go to final status talks. In other words, we haven't tried to find a formula to resolve all the issues; we've tried to find a formula to get them over the hurdle to get into final status talks. We came up with a set of ideas. In principle, but not in all the details, but in principle, Mr. Arafat accepted them. Mr. Netanyahu was not in a position to do so. He went home to Israel; he asked Mr. Ross, my Middle East Ambassador, to go out there and talk to him. He did. He's coming back now, he's on his way, or he may already be in the United States. Secretary Albright has stayed behind. They will talk some more.

I'm hoping that we can find an agreement based on the ideas we've presented which will enable these two parties to get together and go into final status talks.

I think, frankly, there is still some mistrust between them. And I think, frankly, there is still some difference of calculation among some of the actors in the Middle East drama about whether they are or are not benefited by a delay, by a stall. I can only tell you that I have seen a lot of doors open and close in the last 5? years, and my view is that it is neither in Israel's nor the Palestinian Authority's interest to promote delay; that far more bad things are likely to happen than good things by a deliberate strategy of delay.

So I'm hoping that we'll be able to unlock this problem and worry about responsibility in the future and get results now.

MAY 15, 1998

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, there were eight people killed on the West Bank. Is that a sign people are losing hope in the peace process there, and what can you do?

President Clinton. Well, we know there's a lot of frustration there, and I regret very much the loss of life as well as the tensions which occurred there. I saw the—all I know is what I saw on television last night. But for me, the larger lesson is that delay is not the friend of peace and that we need to work very hard. I'm encouraged that Secretary Albright and Prime Minister Netanyahu are still working, and we need, I think of all us, to try to come to terms with the difficult issues that would at least get the parties into the final status talks.

We have been more than a year now without any substantial progress. And I think the larger message here, apart from the tragedies involved for everybody, is that delay is not the friend of the peace process. It's time to move.

MAY 18, 1998

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, Secretary Albright and Dennis Ross are here in London after the talks in Washington with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Has the Prime Minister softened his resistance to the American proposal for Israeli troop withdrawals, pull-backs from the West Bank? What will Secretary Albright take to the meeting today when she sees Yasser Arafat? Could you give us some kind of update on these talks?

President Clinton. On a few occasions in the past I have given you an answer like this, and I hope you will abide my having to do so again.

The posture of the talks now is such that anything I saw publicly to characterize the position taken by Mr. Netanyahu, or anybody else in the back-and-forth, would almost certainly reduce the chances of our being able to get an agreement which would move the parties to final status and reduce dramatically tensions in the region.

So I think I should reaffirm what I said earlier today. The parties are working. They have been working hard. In my judgment, they have been working in honest, earnest good faith. And we have our hopes, but I think it is important not to raise false hopes or to characterize the talks at this time. They are just in a period when anything we say publicly will increase the chances that we will fail. And if we get something we can say, believe me, I'd be the first one to the microphone. I'd be very happy. But I think it's important not to do more than that now.

OCTOBER 7, 1998

Middle East Peace Process

Q. How long do you expect next week's Middle East summit to last when they come to Washington?

President Clinton. I'd be happy if it were over in an hour, but I'm prepared to invest as much time as it takes.

Q. Do you foresee multiple days?

President Clinton. It might take more than a day, yes. I asked them to block out a couple of days to come back because I think it's very important that we try to get over these last humps and get into the last stage of negotiations. We need to get to final status talks, because, keep in mind, the whole thing is supposed to be wrapped up by May of next year. And the closer we get to that date without having been at least in the final status talks, where the parties have a relaxed opportunity, without being up against a timetable, to discuss these big issues of the future of the Middle East—the closer we get to that date without that happening, it's going to be more difficult. So it is imperative that we move on and get this next big step done.

I'm encouraged that Secretary Albright is in the region today. She's going to have an announcement about it later today. I'm encouraged by the attitude and the sense of openness I felt from Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat the last time they were here. And if they can come back with that spirit, we're close enough now that we can get this done. And I just hope and pray that that will happen when they come back.

OCTOBER 19, 1998

Terrorist Attack in Beersheba, Israel

The President. I want to begin by saying how much I deplore the grenade attack earlier today on a bus station in Beersheba, Israel. No cause, no grievance justifies terror. This is another attempt to murder, plain and simple.

Now I am convinced that reaching a secure, just, and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the best way to ensure that terrorism has no future in the Middle East. I'm now returning to the Middle East peace talks to encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to make the hard decisions necessary to move this peace process forward.

As I said when we launched the talks last week, the United States will do everything we can to help, but ultimately, only the parties themselves can bridge their differences and put their people on a more hopeful course. The issues are difficult. The distrust is deep. The going has been tough. But the parties must consider the consequences of failure, and also the benefits of progress.

OCTOBER 31, 1998

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

Q. President Clinton, first of all, thank you very much for sitting down with us.

The President. Delighted to do it. Thank you.

Q. You know, it's exactly 3 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. And Mrs. Rabin said she was rather disappointed that you failed to mention her husband during the East Room ceremony last Friday. How do you respond to that?

The President. Well, you know, the agreement is actually supposed to enter into force on the third anniversary of his passing, of his killing. And I think that if, in fact, it does do so, it is a fitting thing, because none of us would be here if it hadn't been for him. He really started all this in a profound way.

I know that the Madrid conference started before his election, but it was his conviction and his strength and security that he conveyed to the people of Israel, I think, that made this whole peace process possible. And I never do anything in the process that I don't think about him.

Q. I'd like to talk about the late Yitzhak Rabin. I think you know, Mr. President, that when you said the phrase, shalom chaver, "goodbye friend," I think you touched many many Israelis in a very, very special way. And we've been curious, how did you come up with this? I even noticed you have a pin that says, shalom chaver on your desk right here in the Oval Office.

The President. Yes. I have many Jewish-Americans working for me here, and they all knew how close I felt to Prime Minister Rabin. And they all knew how heartbroken I was when he was shot. And we were—everybody was sort of coming up with ideas. And Shimon Peres later told me that he had not seen those two words used together before because chaver, it's sort of a special word; it goes beyond normal friendship.

And one of my—I wish I could say that I knew enough Hebrew that I came up with it, but one of my staff members suggested that I say it. And they explained it to me, what it meant, and it seemed to be perfect for what I was trying to say. I must say, for me, that was more than a political loss. I felt very close to the Prime Minister, to Mrs. Rabin. I got to know their children, grandchildren. And I think always when I'm pushing the peace process forward that I'm doing it not just for myself, but maybe also a little for him.

And I must say, in these last negotiations I was very pleased to see that Prime Minister Netanyahu, I saw in his eyes, I could almost see in his eyes the moment when he really made the decision that, well, maybe the Palestinians were going to make sufficiently specific security commitments that would be on a sufficiently clear timetable that he could sell not just to the Israeli public at large but to a decisive portion of his own constituency, which is a very different thing, as all of you know better than I do.

And he could see that, that he could personally believe that it would advance Israel's security. And I saw that look in his eyes. I felt from that point on that eventually we would get an agreement. And that's the look that you want to see in a leader's eyes in a situation like that, because I still believe that the right formula is peace and security, and that you really can't have one without the other. But I also believe—I told Mr. Arafat once during these negotiations that we had to get to the point where Israel and the Palestinian Authority had the same enemies. And that they felt that if they couldn't get to be friends, at least they could be comrades. And that if we could fulfill a role there in the way this agreement was written, to build confidence between them on a daily basis, then that would be a good thing for us to do.

Q. Do you think, Mr. President, that things might have been different today if it wasn't for the assassination?

The President. Yes, of course they might have been. But it's hard to know and pointless to speculate. The main thing I think that is important for me, at least from my perspective as an American President and a friend of Israel, it's important for me that the people of Israel know that I watched these peace talks at Wye unfold. And that I believe that the Prime Minister and the members of his Cabinet who were there, and his staff, were trying their best to advance the cause of Israel's security. I believe that they would never have agreed to this, no matter how much I asked them to do so, if they were not absolutely convinced that it was a real advance for security.

And that, therefore, if we can launch the final status talks, we can redeem the sacrifice of Rabin and all the other people who have died and given and given and given to secure Israel's place and future.

Danger to Prime Minister Netanyahu

Q. Mr. President, from the tragic assassination to the current situation, Prime Minister Netanyahu might put himself at the same risk as Mr. Rabin. So perhaps it is unjustified to put pressure on him to follow the Oslo accord or the Oslo track.

The President. Well, I don't think there's any question that the Prime Minister has put himself at some physical risk in pursuing the peace process. But I believe that it's important that the people of Israel know that, at least in my opinion, it's a good agreement, that it strengthens Israel's security needs, that the agreements made with the Palestinians are fully consistent with Oslo. And the Prime Minister worked very, very hard to advance Israel's security interests.

Just for example, there was the whole issue of what should be done with the people whom Israel believes have committed acts of violence and terrorism against Israelis. And I am convinced that the Palestinians will now act against these people in a way that is consistent with the agreement and that will meet the Prime Minister's and Israel's needs. So that's an example of a whole array of security advances that were embedded in this agreement. And I think all Israelis who support the peace process should support the agreement because I think it furthers the cause of peace.

Palestinian National Council

Q. Mr. President, is it really the PNC, the Palestinian National Council, that is going to convene to revise the Palestinian covenant with your presence? Is it really the PNC?

The President. Well, it's the PNC plus a number of other groups. And some of these groups are embedded within the PNC; that is, they're dual membership for some of the people—in the Government, in the executive council, in the other councils involved. And some are outside the PNC.

But among other things at that meeting, we will seek a clear renunciation of the offending parts of the charter and a general endorsement of the agreement, this whole agreement, so that the process can be seen to be going forward with the support of those who represent grassroots Palestinian opinion.

The Prime Minister wanted me to support this provision, this effort, and he fought very, very hard for this, as did a number of members of his Cabinet who were there, because they thought that there needed to be a debate in a Palestinian forum, even if it was controversial and heated, which would give to the Palestinian people some evidence not only of a commitment to follow an agreement but of a changing of the heart, an opening of the heart of the Palestinians toward the Israelis.

And I thought that argument had a lot of appeal, even though it was not without its hazards for Mr. Arafat.

Q. Because——

The President. Because it's been 18 months since anything big has happened, and because there's a lot of—he has his problems, too, among them the fact that the standard of living for most Palestinians is lower today than it was when the peace process began, because the enemies of peace keep interrupting the flow of normal life.

So I agreed that if it was that important to Israel and Chairman Arafat were willing to try to accommodate that condition by the Israelis, that I would go to Gaza and address this group and ask them to support the peace and to renounce forever the idea of animosity toward and opposition to the existence of the state of Israel and instead embrace the path not only of peace but of cooperation.

President's Upcoming Visit to Gaza

Q. I want to ask you about your visit to Gaza. Don't you think, Mr. President, that this trip may be seen as a first step in recognizing an independent Palestinian state?

The President. Well, if so it would be, I think, wrong, because I have tried strictly to adhere to the position of the United States that we would not take a position on any final status issue.

One of the reasons that I worked so hard at Wye to try to bring the parties together is I thought it imperative to take this next big step along the peace process so that we could launch the final status talks and get them underway in good faith so that neither side would seek to prejudge a final status issue. That is not what I'm doing in going there. The Prime Minister wanted me to go there and wanted us all to make this pitch.

I asked them if they would make some joint appearances, and if they would both make the same speech to Palestinian and to Israeli audiences. And they said they would do that. I would like to see that happen. I think that would help. It would help the Palestinians to see Yasser Arafat saying the same thing to the Israelis he says to the Palestinians. It would help the Israelis, I think, also. And it would be a good thing for the Prime Minister to be able to give the same speech. Whatever they decide to say, just say the same thing to both communities so that no one thinks that there's any evasion or shading or anything.

I think, just little things like this to open up a little awareness of the other's position and build a little confidence, I think would be quite good.

Jonathan Pollard

Q. Mr. President, why won't you release Jonathan Pollard?

The President. Well, I agreed to review his case and to take the initiative to review it. I have not released him in the past because since I've been President in the two previous normal reviews—that is, the ones that were initiated by his request for clemency—the recommendation of all my law enforcement and security agencies was unanimously opposed to it.

But the Prime Minister felt so strongly about it, and I might say, every Israeli Prime Minister I have dealt with on every occasion has asked me about Pollard. Yitzhak Rabin did, Shimon Peres did, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has.

Q. But you argued pretty—you had pretty harsh exchanges with Netanyahu, reportedly, about that?

The President. No. I thought then, I believe now, and I think the public opinion in Israel bears this out, that it was in Israel's interest to do this agreement on its own merits because it would advance the cause of Israeli security and keep the peace process going.

I think there's been a lot of reporting about this with which I don't necessarily agree. That's no criticism, I just want to tell you my perception. Bibi Netanyahu argued strongly for Pollard's release. He made the arguments that anyone who knows a lot about the case and thinks he should be released would make. But I took no offense at that. He was representing what he believes to be the interest of the State of Israel. And he did it in—you know, he doesn't make arguments halfway. You observe the Prime Minister, he's an aggressive person; he fights hard for what he believes. I took no offense at it at all.

And I would ask you all to remember when evaluating reports that tempers were frayed or strong language was used; now, remember, the three of us, Mr. Arafat and Mr. Netanyahu and I, we were there for over 8 days. Most nights I was there, I went home at 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning. The last time we were there on this last day, I was up for 39 hours and so were they.

Now, I'm amazed that we didn't have more disruptive conduct and more harsh words, given how exhausted and frayed we were. But it shows you how hard the parties were trying, on the one hand, to make peace, but on the other hand, to protect their security interests. Particularly, I think, that was Mr. Netanyahu's concern. He was desperately trying to find a way to make peace or to advance the peace process that would enable him to go home and sell it to his Cabinet and his constituency. And this Pollard issue was very important to him. But I took no offense at that.

Q. But still, Mr. President, there were many reports that you were very upset with Mr. Netanyahu and were quoted saying that his behavior was despicable.

The President. That report is not true. That's just inaccurate. And this is the first opportunity I've had to say that. There was a moment in the negotiations when the two guys split apart, and there was an issue raised that I thought was wrong. And I said so in very graphic terms. But I never used the word "despicable" to describe the Prime Minister. I did not do that.

There was a moment where I thought—there were various moments in these negotiations when I thought—at least from my perspective, trying to be an honest broker—they were both wrong. You would expect this over 8 days.

But at that moment, the issue at stake had nothing to do with Pollard. It was an issue, a dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It had nothing to do with Pollard. And it is true that there was a moment in which there was a heated exchange in which I said something rather graphic, but I did not adversely characterize the Prime Minister in the way that's reported.

DECEMBER 14, 1998

Implementation of the Wye Agreement

Q. Mr. President—[inaudible]—to be time—[inaudible]—on the implementation of the Wye agreement, as Israel has said to be asking?

President Clinton. Well, I would hope that we would continue to implement the Wye agreement on both sides. I would hope both sides would continue to implement every part of it. And I think it's important that both sides implement every part of it in good faith.

Keep in mind, Wye is not the end of this process. It's simply a means to an end. We also have to get the final status talks going and then get into them in earnest. But these confidence-building measures, which will enable the Palestinians not only to have an airport but to have more freedom of movement, more land, and more economic opportunity, and enable the Israelis to have a greater assurance of security cooperation, I think they're very important to the success of final status talks. So I'm committed to this agreement, and I hope that it will be implemented in a timely and aggressive manner by both sides.

President Clinton. I would like to say just one other thing. There are two historic elements to this day. One is the opportunity that I have been given simply to come here and to have this meeting and to be a part of the airport dedication. The other is the truly historic meeting that the Chairman has convened of the PNC, the PCC, and the other Palestinian groups, and the opportunity that the Palestinian people, through their elected representatives, will have to make it clear and unequivocal that they are choosing the path of peace and partnership with Israel, and that we hope—I think all of us hope—that this will lead to a changing of hearts and minds throughout this region among all parties, so that it will be easier for everyone to implement the difficult commitments they have made at Wye and will have to make to get the final status talks completed.

This is a truly significant thing, and I, for one, very much appreciate it. It was a part of the Wye River agreements; it showed a lot of courage on Chairman Arafat's part; and I was delighted to be invited here. And so I just want to say how much I personally appreciate this and how much I think it will mean over the long run to the prospects for a successful peace agreement.

DECEMBER 15, 1998

Israeli Troop Redeployment

Q. Mr. President, will the redeployment that is scheduled for Friday go ahead?

The President. Well, I think the proper way to answer that is that the Israeli Government in my meeting reaffirmed its commitment to the Wye process. And so we have to resolve a number of issues in order for the redeployment to go forward. I think it would be unfortunate if we got too far behind schedule, and I hope we can keep pretty much to the schedule that's there. But obviously, that remains to be worked out here.

We believe in keeping to these schedules as much as possible, and we worked very hard to put all this back on track here. I do think that we are back on track. We're going to see this through, and I feel good about where we are now.

Q. This clearinghouse you're speaking about——

Trilateral Meeting

Q. Are they talking again?

The President. Oh, yes, yes. We sat there for however long, an hour and 25 minutes today, with all the parties in the room, including the major members of each side's team, as well as the leaders, and everybody had their say. And there was some—we got beyond people stating their own positions to actual conversation, and I'm quite hopeful. I think the proof is always in what happens tomorrow, not what happens today, but I think at least we've got a process set up and we can go forward.

Middle East Peace Process and Domestic Political Problems

Q. Mr. President, have you been able to insulate the peace process from the domestic political problems affecting you and the Prime Minister?

The President. Oh, absolutely.

Q. How so?

The President. You show up for work every day. It's not a complicated thing.

Clearinghouses

Q. These clearinghouses, are these to clear those obstacles that stand in the way of Netanyahu going through with the next phase of the withdrawal? Is this to satisfy him that these various issues like unilateral declarations are being resolved so he can go ahead? I don't understand the clearinghouse.

The President. No, no. What I am saying is—no, there is a steering committee that we had set up at Wye that is supposed to deal with things like——

Q. Well, yes, prisoners, for instance.

The President. No, no, that's different. It's supposed to deal with things like—the steering committee deals with things like the weapons confiscation and destruction issue, the size of the police forces, all those specific issues that were set up at Wye not being dealt with in the security committee, not being dealt with in the informal channel on prisoners, not being dealt with in some other way.

And so what I would say, as I think you will get a report before the end of the day here that these folks have gotten together, the reports have been made, and I think a determination will be made that a number of the requirements of the Wye agreement have been met so that we can go forward. But this is a complicated matter, obviously, and I hope we can stay as close to the schedule as possible.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's Preconditions

Q. He set preconditions for going in. His latest one was unilateral declarations of statehood. He said that yesterday. Before that, it was the covenant. You got the covenant taken care of. What I am trying to determine is whether his preconditions have been swept away.

The President. Well, the meeting we did yesterday was part of the Wye agreement. The other question is one that I think both sides should observe, which is, it is okay to advocate how you want this to come out. That's okay. Neither side should try to stop the other from saying what their vision of the future is. That would be a terrible mistake. But it is not okay to imply that we're not going to resolve all the matters that were listed in the Oslo agreement for negotiations by negotiations. That is what we've got to do, and that's where I think the line ought to be drawn and the balance ought to be struck. If we stick with that, you know, we'll have fits and starts; it will be hard parts, but we'll get through this. We'll get through this just fine, and it will come out where it ought to.


Sources: Public Papers of the President

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