JANUARY 4, 2000
Israel-Syria Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, how are the talks going in the Middle East—on the Middle East, Syria-Israel?
The President. Well, we just started, but all the issues are on the table. And it’s a pretty full table, as you might imagine.
Q. Are they going to get together?
The President. We’re working at it. I’m going back up today, and I’m hopeful.
Q. Are you disappointed at all with the pace of yesterday’s talks and that the trilat did not take place?
The President. No. No, that was partly my decision. We just had a lot of other work to do, and I’m going back today. I think they’re both very serious. I think they both want an agreement. I think there are difficult issues, and we’ll just have to hope that we work it out.
Press Secretary Joe Lockhart. Thank you, everyone. Thank you.
Q. How about the reports that the Israelis need $17 billion, sir?
The President. What?
Q. The reports the Israelis need $17 billion——
The President. I don’t—excuse me, I’ve lost my cufflink—I think there will be some costs associated with the security rearrangements. And then obviously, over the long run, as I have made clear, we need to make a contribution, as do our friends in Europe and hopefully some in Asia, to the long-term economic development of a regional Middle East economy. So there will be some costs involved there, over a period of years, not just in one year.
We’re trying to determine exactly what that should be. And of course, before I can make any commitments, I will have to consult with the congressional leadership in both Houses and in both parties and some of the committee leaders as well. And I have made that clear. So we’re attempting to ascertain what the general outlines of the costs would be, over how many years those costs can be spread, and then I will have to do some serious consultation with the congressional leadership before I can do more than say I would support this.
We want to have a high probability of success, and I believe that in America, Americans of all political parties and all stripes desperately want us to see a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and understand that in the next 3 to 4 months we have an unparalleled opportunity that we have to seize. So I’m quite hopeful about that.
Q. Is $17 million—$17 billion the right figure?
The President. I don’t know yet. What we’re working on now up in West Virginia is sort of figuring out what the process for the next few days is going to be. And then we have to start working on that and figuring out what the specific jobs are that we would be asked to help finance, whether we could get any others to help, and over how many years it would have to be done. Then I’ll have to go talk to the Congress. And I’m just not in a position yet to say what dollar amount I would ask our Congress for.
JANUARY 7, 2000
Q. Are you satisfied with the cooperation that you’ve been getting from the Israeli and Syrian negotiators in Shepherdstown?
The President. Yes. This is difficult stuff. This is very hard. But let me say, they’re working hard, and they’re trying to find ways to resolve their differences. And they’re trying to imagine the end of the road here. It’s a difficult, difficult set of negotiations, but we’re working in a steady way, and I’m satisfied that everybody is working in good faith.
Q. How long do you expect this to take? The President. I don’t know—until we finish.
Q. Mr. President, how do you see your role in Shepherdstown to get these talks moving?
The President. Oh, I don’t want to characterize that. I just try to get people together and identify what they have in common and identify what their differences are, try to get people to keep in mind the big picture at the end, what we want the—in this case, what we hope and pray the Middle East will look like in 5 years or 10 years from now. And then try to work these things through to the end. But we’re just trying to be helpful, and I hope we are, and we’re working at it.
JANUARY 10, 2000
Israel-Syria Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, how far do you think that they got in Shepherdstown, and when do you expect the two sides to get back together again?
The President. Oh, I think they’ll be back here pretty soon. We’re just trying to work out the precise arrangements. And you know, these people really talked about the substance of their differences for the first time. They were very open; they were very candid; they covered all the issues. And I think that they broke a lot of ground. But it’s tough. I told you it was tough in the beginning. I still think we can get there, but they’re going to have to come back here determined to do so, and I believe they will.
Q. You’re not disappointed, sir, in the results?
The President. Oh, no. I never expected in the first go ’round that we could have a concluding agreement. It’s just—this is too tough. These are very difficult issues. But they’re not— the good news is they’re not overwhelmingly complicated. That is, sometimes you have in these peace negotiations issues that are both politically difficult and extremely complicated.
I think there’s some complexity here, but it’s all quite manageable. So I think that they know where they are now; they’ve talked through. They have a feeling for each other; they’ve dealt with all these issues. We have a working—a document, if you will, on which we can work through the differences. And so I feel pretty good about it.
I think our United States team did a good job. I’m very proud of Secretary Albright and Mr. Berger and all the rest of them. They did a good job. And I think the people who came from Israel and from Syria really are trying to make a difference. So if they want to do it bad enough and they’re willing to sort of take a chance on a totally different future, they can get there. And I certainly hope they will, and I’m still quite hopeful.
Middle East Peace Process
Q. You said you were hopeful with the Pales
tinian talks? The President. Oh, very, yes.
Q. For next month?
The President. Yes. I’m quite hopeful there, too. Mr. Arafat is coming here in a few days, and I’m quite hopeful.
JANUARY 19, 2000
Israel-Syria Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, you’ve spoken to President Asad. Do you have any reason to believe that the peace talks will restart soon?
The President. Well, first of all, I think it’s very important that you—I think this has been well and accurately reported, as nearly as I can tell. But I want to reiterate, neither side has decided to back away from the peace talks, call an end to them, call a freeze to them. That’s not what’s going on. They are having a genuine dispute about sequencing now that I’m trying to work through for both of them.
But the good news about this is that both these leaders, I think, want a peace that meets each other’s needs. That is, they’re both quite mindful of the fact that there won’t be a peace agreement unless the legitimate concerns of both sides are met.
And I would not say the gaps in the positions are 90 percent; I’d say they’re much closer to 10 percent than 90 percent. But keep in mind, these folks had not dealt with each other in a very long time. And that week they spent together at Shepherdstown was really the first time they had had these kind of direct contacts, get a feel for where they were. They wanted to go home and reassess their positions. And so we need to do some trust-building. We’ve got some work to do, but I’m actually quite hopeful.
And I see that both sides have continued to evidence a fairly high level of confidence that they can succeed, and that’s good news. So we’re in a little patch here where I’ve just got a little extra work to do, and I’m working at it. And hopefully, we can do it.
Q. [Inaudible]—Asad today or yesterday?
The President. Yes, I talked to President Asad, I think yesterday, wasn’t it?
Q. But since then——
The President. No, not since yesterday morning. But I’ll be in regular contact with him continuously. So we’re working this very, very hard. And of course, we’re also working on the Palestinian track, and tomorrow Chairman Arafat will be here, and I expect to have a good meeting with him. You know, if this were easy, it would have been done a long time ago. But we’re working at it, and I’m pretty hopeful.
JANUARY 20, 2000
Israel-Palestinian Peace Talks
President Clinton. Let me just say I am delighted to have Chairman Arafat back in the White House. As all of you know, I am absolutely committed to seeing a comprehensive peace agreement involving the Palestinians and the Israelis, committed to doing whatever I can to achieve that. The resolution of the issues between Palestinians and Israelis is at the core of the comprehensive effort that we all want to make for peace throughout the Middle East, and we have to work through them.
As in any process like this, there must be inevitable and difficult compromises. No one can get everything that either side wants. But I’m convinced we can get there, and I’m convinced that Chairman Arafat is proceeding in great good faith, and so I’m glad to see him, glad he’s here.
Q. Mr. President, is it possible for these talks to be completed by the deadline for the framework agreement? And if not, would you support extending it?
President Clinton. Well, I think that will have to be worked out between the two sides, and specifically between Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak. And they will work that out. I think the main thing I want you to know is that I’m convinced it’s possible for them to reach a comprehensive peace in a reasonably short period of time. And I’m going to do whatever I can to facilitate it.
Israel-Syria Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, when can we expect talks on the Syrian tracks to be resumed?
President Clinton. I think they’ll both have something to say about that before long. I think they’ll keep working right along. This is not— you shouldn’t overreact to what has been said about this. I think they’re both completely determined to get this resolved in an appropriate way. And I think they’ll have things to say about it as we go along here. But don’t read too much into this. Actually, the parties have a framework for making these decisions that’s more clear and more bridgeable than I would have thought by now.
FEBRUARY 9, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, what are you doing about the daily bombing of Lebanon?
The President. Well, let me say, we are doing our best to get the peace process back on track. I think it is clear that the bombing is a reaction to the deaths, in two separate instances, of Israeli soldiers. What we need to do is to stop the violence and start the peace process again. We’re doing our best to get it started. And we’re working very, very hard on it.
FEBRUARY 11, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. In the Middle East, Mr. President, do you fear that the Israel-Lebanon conflict is spinning out of control? And what does this mean for the peace process in general?
The President. Well, so far I think both sides have tried to keep it within control but take the—the Israelis have taken the retaliatory action they felt they had to take. But there has been some restraint there in the hope of keeping the peace process alive.
It seems to me that it is a sober reminder of why we ought to resume the peace process with great determination. A comprehensive peace between Syria and Lebanon and Israel is the only way, ultimately, I think, to resolve the continuing difficulties, over many years now, along that border. And similarly, I think peace between Israel and the Palestinians is critical to resolving the gnawing problems which reoccur from time to time within the borders of the countries.
So I would hope that it would redouble peo-ple’s energy for it. And so far, I think that that’s where we are, that you don’t have the people who are the real players here—as nearly as I can see, and I watch it pretty closely, you know—giving up on the peace process. You do have a lot of frustration, anger. There’s still a surprising amount of misunderstanding of each other’s motives, given how long these folks have been living together and working together. But we’ll see. I’m hopeful.
FEBRUARY 14, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Mr. Blitzer. All right. We have a chat room that’s going on even as we speak right now. There’s a question from one person: Are you optimistic, Mr. President, about the future for Middle East peace?
The President. Yes, I am. This is—we’re in a little tough patch right now, because a lot of things are going on in the Middle East, the trouble in Lebanon right now. And we’re down to the last strokes, if you will. We’re down to the hard decisions. But I believe it is so clearly in the interests of the long-term security of Israel and the long-term interests of the Palestinians and the Syrians and the Lebanese to have a comprehensive peace. And I think we’re so close on the substance that I am optimistic.
Now, it will require courage. And it will require courage not just by the leaders, but the people of those countries have to recognize that you cannot make peace unless you’re willing to give as well as to get. But they ought to do it, and they ought to do it sooner rather than later. I think that the longer you delay something like this, when you have a moment of opportunity, the more you put it at risk. But I am basically optimistic.
Mr. Blitzer. You’ve invested a lot of your personal time and energy in the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Syrian peace process. Is it time for you, once again, to personally get involved and bring the parties together, do something to make sure this opportunity is not lost?
The President. Well, I am personally involved, even when I’m not in a public way. I’m always on the phone, always working this issue. But I think that there will have to be some forward progress here in the next few weeks, and I’ll do whatever I can to facilitate it in whatever way I can. But beyond that, I don’t want to say anything right now. We’re working it, and the parties are working it.
MARCH 21, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Mr. Jennings. Last question, sir. You’re going to see President Asad in Geneva on Sunday.
That’s a pretty big meeting. Does this mean a deal is close?
The President. I wouldn’t say that. But I will say this. Ever since they met in Shepherdstown the first of the year, and then the talks sort of were stalled, I’ve been working very hard with both sides. I now think I’m in a position to have a sense of what it will take for both sides to get an agreement. So it’s an appropriate time for me to discuss this with President Asad, in the hope that we can start the talks again.
I’m encouraged by the decisions that have been made by the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think they are committed to going forward, and they have a pretty good timetable. They’re going to have to work hard to make it. And I think that the only way we’ll ever have this thing the way it ought to be in the Middle East is to finish with the Syrians and then with the Lebanese, as well.
So I think this is time. Whether it will lead to a breakthrough, I don’t know. I hope it will lead to a resumption of talks.
Mr. Jennings. Is it safe to assume that President Asad doesn’t leave the country easily and would not agree to go to Geneva to see you were you not to have something pretty good to offer?
The President. I think it’s safe to assume that I wouldn’t waste his time, either. I think that we have—it’s time for us to talk about what we think it would take to resume these talks and move to a resolution. And I’m going to give him my honest opinion about where we are and where I think we can go. And then we just need to make a decision, all of us, about whether to go forward. But principally, it’s a decision for the Israelis and the Syrians.
Mr. Jennings. Does this involve a comprehensive settlement, one that involves the Syrian Golan Heights, the Israelis, and the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon?
The President. Well, I want to talk to President Asad. There isn’t an agreement, yet. But if there is an agreement, I would hope it would lead to a resolution of both the Syrian issues and the Lebanese issues, which is very important in Israel. The Israelis care a lot about that, and well they should. And of course, the Lebanese do. We’ll see. Keep your fingers crossed
MARCH 28, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. President Clinton, how much faith do you have in peace being concluded before you leave your tenure here?
President Clinton. Well, I think we are making and will continue to see good progress between the Israelis and Palestinians. I went to Switzerland to meet President Asad, to clarify to him what I thought the options were and to hear from him what his needs are. I asked him to come back to me with what he thought ought to be done. So the ball is in his court now, and I’m going to look forward to hearing from him. And we’re going to talk about what else I can do, what else we can do together. President Mubarak has been at this longer than I have, and we’re going to keep working.
Q. President Clinton, your term ends in a few months now. Do you think the Israelis are ready to go along and finalize the peace process during that period? And what do you think the steps that they are going to take? For President Mubarak, do you foresee a solution in the near future?
President Clinton. Well, I think they are making very serious efforts. And I think Prime Minister Barak would like to do this as quickly as he can. And I can tell you they have made very, very serious efforts on all tracks, and I think you will continue to see progress at least on the Palestinian track. And of course, I hope we’ll have some progress on the Syrian one, as well—as well as in Lebanon.
MARCH 29, 2000
Israel-Syria Peace Talks
Q. Mr. President, you said that the ball is in Asad’s court. Is that because you think that his insistence on the return of all Syrian land under occupation in exchange for peace lacks logic or possibility?
The President. It’s because he now knows in great detail what the Israeli proposals were. And I believe, since they have made an effort to be specific and comprehensive, if we’re going to make progress, they should now be able to know what his specific and comprehensive response is on all the issues.
There is more than one issue here. And if we’re going to have a negotiation, I don’t think it’s enough to say, "I don’t like your position. Come back and see me when I like your position." And I understand how strongly he feels about it, but if he disagrees with their territorial proposal, which is quite significant, then there should be some other proposal, I think, coming from the Syrians about how their concerns could be handled. And that’s what I meant by that. I did my best to try to just present what I thought the options were. And if we’re going to have a negotiation, it takes two people coming up with ideas—or three sides, in this case, if we are being asked to mediate it.
He, obviously, has the perfect right to take whatever position he believes is in Syria’s interests and whatever he thinks is right. But if there is a genuine desire for peace here on both sides, and I believe there is, and if both sides face certain significant political constraints within their countries, and I believe they do, then they both need to come up with some ideas and start talking.
I mean, the one thing there should be no doubt about is that there is a real effort being made here to resolve this. And I think it is clear that Prime Minister Barak would like to resolve it, and I think President Asad would like to resolve it. So once you know what the other side wants and you don’t think you can do it, then you ought to come up with some alternative way of trying to respond to the underlying concerns that are behind the position. That’s what I’ve suggested, and I hope that will happen. And meanwhile, the rest of us will keep working. I had a good talk with President Mubarak yesterday about that, and I hope we can continue to move forward.
Q. Mr. President, are you prepared to deploy American advisers, monitors, or troops on the Golan Heights to secure an Israeli-Syrian peace accord? Did you discuss that at all with President Asad and, if so, what was his response?
The President. We did not discuss it. So far, all the options being discussed by Syria and Israel do not entail that. The only time I ever even discussed it as a theoretical possibility was many years ago with the late Prime Minister Rabin. And it was clear to me, even then, that both sides were looking for a way to resolve this that would not require an international force including American troops there, and I think they are still trying to get that done.
APRIL 11, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, why did you call Mr. Barak so urgently to come to Washington? What was the urgency in the matter?
President Clinton. Well, we wanted to talk to each other. It was as much his idea as mine. I think that he wants to continue to energize the peace process, move forward with the Palestinians and with his withdrawal from Lebanon, and I strongly support that, and we’re going to talk about it.
Q. Mr. President, what is the United States going to do to prevent an outburst of violence in Lebanon when Israel pulls out in only 3 months?
President Clinton. Well, if Israel pulls out in accordance with the United Nations resolution, what justification will anyone have for violence? They’ve been asking for this for years—years and years and years.
Q. Justification or not, there is a warning that there could be a real violent——
Q. That doesn’t stop Hezbollah from doing
its—— President Clinton. We’ll talk about that.
Q. Is there anything the U.S. can do for Israel to make the withdrawal serene, to make it peaceful?
President Clinton. Well, "serene" is a word not normally used in the context of the Middle East these days, but we’ll do what we can to help, and we’re going to talk about it.
Q. Mr. President, are things as bleak on the
Syrian track as it seems to us? President Clinton. Excuse me?
Q. Are things as bleak as they seem to us, on the Syrian track?
President Clinton. Well, I got an answer back from President Asad to several of the points that I raised when I met with him in Switzerland. And there are still differences, if that’s what—but that’s no bleaker than it was before we met. And so I think what we’ve got to do is figure out where we go from there. But I think there’s a lot of hope for more rapid movement on the Palestinian front, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.
Q. Is the door still open? Is the door still open on Syrian track? Is the door still open?
President Clinton. You should be asking him, but I think so. But there’s got to be a willingness. So we’ve got to bridge some of these divides, and so we need to make progress where we can.
Q. Are you going to discuss a new proposal on the Syrian front?
President Clinton. Today we’re going to discuss, I think, mostly the Palestinian track and Lebanon.
Q. Are you satisfied with the pace of Israel’s withdrawal on the Palestinian track?
President Clinton. I think you should wait and see what happens in the next few weeks before we talk about that.
Q. Well, the——
President Clinton. We’re going to talk about what’s going to happen from here on in.
Israeli Weapon Sales to China
Q. [Inaudible]—Israel’s view of China? Can you talk about that issue, when you come back from the Prime Minister, Israel’s sale of weaponry to China? Is that going to affect things?
President Clinton. We’re going to talk about that. I’m concerned about it; you know I am, and we’ll talk about it.
Q. [Inaudible]—on the Palestinian track today?
Prime Minister Barak. We have a variety of ideas to discuss about how to move to give new momentum and energy to the Palestinian track in order to live up to the timeline that we have set together with Chairman Arafat.
Q. And what are you going to tell the President about China, selling arms to China? Prime Minister Barak. We’ll discuss it.
APRIL 20, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, did you write a letter for former Prime Minister Netanyahu, promising him that Israel would keep its nuclear or mass destruction weapons in case they reach an agreement with the Palestinians?
The President. I don’t believe that issue ever came up in connection with an agreement with the Palestinians, with Mr. Netanyahu or any other Israeli Prime Minister. To the best of my memory, it did not.
I think you all know what the issues are between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They are difficult, but I think they can be bridged. If the parties want to do this, we will do everything we can to help them and to minimize the difficulties and the risks involved. There are risks and difficulties involved for Chairman Arafat; there are risks and difficulties involved for Prime Minister Barak, for the Palestinian people, and for the Israeli people. I believe they are not nearly as great as the risks and difficulties of not making a peace agreement, so I hope they will do it. And if they want to do it, I’ll do whatever I can to help them.
MAY 31, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, it’s been a very busy couple of weeks in the Middle East, as you know. I’m wondering whether what’s happened there recently has created any new opportunities for the peace process, what dangers it might have raised, and whether anything that’s happened there has given you new hope that the September 13th deadline for a Palestinian-Israeli agreement will be reached?
President Clinton. Well, I think the decision of Prime Minister Barak to withdraw the Israeli troops from southern Lebanon, in accordance with the United Nations resolution, was, first of all, a daring one which creates both new challenges and new opportunities. It changed the landscape. And from my point of view, it imposes on—it should impose, at least, on all parties a greater sense of urgency, because things are up in the air again. So there is an opportunity, to use a much overworked phrase, to create a new order, to fashion a new peaceful order out of the principles of the Oslo accord and all that’s been done in the year since.
But from my point of view, it also imposes a much greater sense of urgency. I think the consequences of inaction are now likely to be more difficult because of this move. And so— for example, you have now—just for example, you talked about the Palestinians. I think this will heighten the anxieties of the Palestinians in Lebanon. Does this mean that there is going to be a peace and, therefore, they will be able to have a better life, either going home or going to some third country, going to Europe, going to the United States? Or does this mean that this is it, and there is sort of a new freezing of the situation? So there is anxiety in that community. You see that in every little aspect of this.
I think, on balance, it’s good, because I believe they are going to reach an agreement. But it both turns the tension up in all camps and increases the overall price of not reaching an agreement fairly soon and the overall reward of reaching an agreement fairly soon. It changes everything in a way that both increases the pluses and increases the potential minuses. That’s my analysis.
Q. President Clinton, sir, can you confirm if it’s true that tomorrow you will meet in Lisbon with Prime Minister from Israel Ehud Barak?
President Clinton. Yes. I will, and I’m going to talk to Mr. Arafat before that, sometime today.
Upcoming Meeting With Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel
Q. Mr. President, can you please explain the timing and reasoning behind your visit tomorrow with Barak and tell us what you hope to accomplish?
President Clinton. Yes. They have—first of all, all the balls are up in the air as I just explained, and so there is both greater potential for something happening and also greater tension in the atmosphere, which is causing a ripple effect in the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Secondly, Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat have set for themselves an earlier timetable, as you know, to reach a framework agreement—not a final agreement; that’s supposed to be done in Sep-tember—but an earlier one. And there are lots of things that need to be gone through that we need to go through if we’re even going to reach the framework agreement, because a lot of the toughest things have to be—they’ll have to come to grips with those just to reach the framework agreement.
So I have been looking for an opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Barak. As you know, he was supposed to come to the United States a few days ago, and because of developments in the region, he could not come. Then he was going to come to Germany and participate in an event to which he was invited anyway, and we were going to talk, and then he couldn’t do that because of a holiday in Israel. So this was the only shot we had to do it and still have enough time to meet the deadline that both he and Mr. Arafat are trying to meet.
There’s no—you shouldn’t overread this. It’s not like there’s some bombshell out there. But we just really needed to have a face-to-face meeting, and we needed to do it in this time-frame. He couldn’t come last week to the United States. Then he couldn’t come to Berlin to the meeting to which he was also invited. So we’re doing the best we can with a difficult situation.
JUNE 28, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. There are reports that Israel and the Palestinians will be coming to Washington next week for talks. Do you think enough progress is being made to arrange a Middle East summit, or are you discouraged? And secondly, should Israel stop the sale of radar systems to China?
The President. Let me answer the second question first because that's a much clearer one. We're very concerned about that sale, and I've talked to Prime Minister Barak about it extensively. And as you know, there's a lot of concern in the Congress, so we're still working on that.
Now, in terms of their coming here for talks, there has been no date set. I do not believe that they can resolve the final, most difficult issues without having the leaders get together in some isolated setting and make the last tough decisions--or decide not to make them, as the case may be.
Of all the issues involved with regard to all the parties in the Middle East peace talks, the final status issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians are the most difficult. I do not, however, believe they're going to get any easier with the passage of time. I think that some foreign policy problems--the answer is to kick the can down the road and wait for them to get better and hope time takes care of them. Some have to be decided sooner or later, and sooner is better than later. My own instinct is that the cluster of problems here would be better off being resolved sooner rather than later.
I've had Mr. Ross out in the Middle East, and then Secretary Albright went, and she's going to give me a report. And when she does, then I'll make a judgment about whether the time is right to ask them to come here. But I have not made that decision yet.
JULY 10, 2000
Israeli Knesset Vote
Q. Mr. President, the Israeli Government is falling apart. How is Barak going to be able to negotiate a peace?
The President. Well, first, I think it's important to note that, as the news reports this morning in Israel reflect, a solid majority of the people want him to come and want him to pursue peace.
Look, if this were easy, it would have been done a long time ago. This is difficult. It is perhaps the most difficult of all the peace problems in the world, certainly dealing with the most difficult issues of the whole Middle East peace process, on which I have worked for nearly 8 years now. But both Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat have the vision, the knowledge, the experience, and the ability and the shear guts to do what it takes, I think, to reach an agreement, and then to take it back to their people and see if they can sell it.
And keep in mind, Prime Minister Barak has said that the people of Israel will have their say on this. So this is really, I think, a matter of trying to come to grips with the issues on the merits, asking whether the price of peace is greater than the price of continued conflict and all the associated difficulties and heartbreaks and uncertainties and insecurity that that carries.
And I'm going to do my best to help them. I admire both of them for coming. It's not easy for either to come. But they have come because they think that the price of not doing it is greater than the risk of going forward. And I hope we'll have the thoughts and prayers and best wishes of all Americans. It's going to be a difficult process. But the fact that they're coming means that we still have a chance.
JULY 26, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. On the Middle East, Mr. President, the Palestinians are saying the deal on the table on Jerusalem is just not doable. If that's the case, how can there ever be a compromise?
The President. Well, first of all, let me try to frame this in a way that I think that the Palestinians and the Israelis, and I would hope other friends of peace around the world, would think about it. We all know how hard Jerusalem is because it goes to the sense of identity of both the Palestinian and the Israeli people, and in a larger sense, the adherence of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all around the world.
In a sense, therefore, the city of Jerusalem is not just Yerushalayim for the Israelis and Al-Quds for the Palestinians. It is a holy place that reaches beyond even the geographical boundaries of the city.
If there is to be an agreement here, it must be one which meets the legitimate interests of both parties. And that requires a certain imagination and flexibility of defining those interests and then figuring out an institutional and legal framework for them that, frankly, just takes more time and more reflection and probably less pressure than was available in our 15 days at Camp David.
But in any negotiation, it must be possible for both sides to say they got most of what they wanted and needed, that they were not routed from the field, that there was honorable compromise. And so, therefore, the issues cannot be framed in a "you have to lose in order for me to win, and in order for you to win, I have to lose" framework. If they are like that, you're correct, then we can never reach an agreement.
But I have spent a great deal of time, obviously, not only studying about this but listening to the two sides talk about it, think about it, and looking at all the options available for a potential resolution of it. And all I can tell you is, I'm convinced that if the issue is preserving the fundamental interests of the Palestinians and the Israelis and the genuine sanctity of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish interest in the Holy City, then I think we can do that. I just do. But we couldn't do it in the 15 days we were there.
The decision that will have to be made is whether there is a way-- for example, in this case, you mentioned the Palestinians--for the Palestinians to win their fundamental interest without also winning the right to say they have routed the Israelis, or whether there's a way for the Israelis to protect their fundamental interests without also winning the right to say they have stuck it to the Palestinians. I believe there is, and we're going to explore how we might persuade them, all of them, that there is and where we go from here.
And I hope that just this kind of thing I've been talking about will spark a whole range of "oh" articles in the press, commentators on the TV programs, other people talking and thinking this way, trying to be innovative and open and--you know, I realize the incredible pressure these people were under in even having this discussion. That is, in the end, why I realized we couldn't get it done in 2 weeks. You've got to get used to talking about something for a little bit before you can then entertain how you can create an edifice that you hadn't previously imagined. And I think we'll be able to do it.
JULY 28, 2000
U.S. Embassy in Israel
Q. Mr. President, are you going to move the Embassy to Jerusalem, or take any other steps to reward the Israelis and punish the Palestinians over Camp David?
The President. First of all, I have nothing to add to what I said yesterday. I think we released the transcript of my interview with Israeli television. We are working aggressively to get these talks back on track. The two parties are meeting, as you know, and has been widely reported.
I meant what I said yesterday, and I reaffirm it. I think what we should all do is to recognize that Prime Minister Barak took some far- reaching steps. The two parties discussed things they had never discussed before. They came closer together than they had ever come before. They still have a ways to go. And I think we need to support the friends of peace and this process in every way that we can. That's what I intend to do.
AUGUST 10, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Do you have any special message for the Arab world after Camp David?
The President. We have in the next few months an historic chance to resolve the Palestinian issue. It is the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and we can and must resolve it on a basis that's fair, honorable, and lasting. Together, we need to seize this opportunity, or it will be lost. The parties cannot do it alone. We need the help of our Arab friends in the region. And we need an approach that resolves problems in a practical and fair way so that the principles that guide Arab-Israeli peace--comprehensiveness and implementation of United Nations Security Resolutions 242 and 338, including land for peace--can be realized in a way that meets the needs of both sides. What is fair and just for Palestinians and Arabs must also be fair and just for Israelis. There cannot be a winner and a loser in these negotiations. We must have two winners, or we will lose the peace.
I know that there is a deep sense of grievance in the Arab world, and through nearly 8 years of working for peace alongside Chairman Arafat, I understand the suffering and pain of the Palestinians. But I also know that the only pathway to realize Palestinian aspirations is through negotiations, through the process of give and take where each side can have its needs met and its hopes realized. I urge all those in this region committed to peace to join with me and to seize this historic moment.
The opportunity to work for a lasting peace between the Palestinian and Israeli people has been among the most meaningful and rewarding aspects of my Presidency. I am motivated in these efforts by the possibility of a better future for all of the peoples in the region. We must all remain focused on this better future, a future in which the Palestinian people might finally achieve through negotiations their aspiration of a Palestinian State recognized by and integrated with the world, at peace and working to address the needs of the Palestinian people.
U.S. Role in the Peace Process
Q. How would you characterize the American role during Camp David talks? Do you see that role evolving in the future, and if so, in what direction?
The President. The talks at Camp David were revolutionary in their detail, their directness, and their honesty about what each side needed to reach an agreement. I worked personally--sometimes all night long-- with both sides to advance this process. Both sides, both Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak, worked hard and in good faith on difficult problems. Sometimes we proposed ideas, suggestions, even language. We made progress across the board. At the same time, our role was not and will never be a substitute for direct Israeli-Palestinian engagement. We will need both levels of interaction to reach an agreement.
Q. You have repeatedly urged the two sides of the conflict not to take any unilateral action that could block progress in the peace process. However, you told Israeli television in your recent interview that you are reviewing the decision to move the Embassy to Jerusalem by the end of the year. Don't you consider this announcement a contradiction of the stated American policy and an impediment to your peace efforts?
The President. From the beginning of my administration, one factor has guided me: to take no action that I judged would harm the peace process. That still is my guiding principle. The 2 weeks I spent at Camp David underscores my commitment to doing everything I can to help both sides reach an agreement.
With regard to the Embassy, I stated that I would review the issue by the end of the year, and I will do so. It is my great hope that by then Israelis and Palestinians--with our help--will have reached an agreement on Jerusalem that meets their needs. Then I would also be able to inaugurate an American Embassy in the capital of a Palestinian State. I firmly believe that the Jerusalem problem can be resolved in a way in which both sides' national aspirations can be realized.
Q. Many Arabs consider President Clinton as the most sympathetic to the suffering of the Palestinian people and their political aspirations and the only leader in their history to have achieved breakthroughs in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Are you concerned that taking a position in the issue of Jerusalem at this stage would hurt not only Arabs but Muslims and Christians around the world?
The President. I have worked hard to understand the plight of the Palestinian people, to understand their aspirations, their losses, and their frustrations. My trip to Gaza and the opportunity to address the Palestinian National Council with Chairman Arafat was critical to this process and a great honor for me.
I am guided in my efforts by one central goal, the need to promote a fair and honorable solution to each of the core issues that both sides find acceptable. Jerusalem is a difficult issue because of its critical importance to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. It is a unique problem which requires a unique solution. In this regard, Jerusalem is really three cities: It is a municipal city like any other with problems of environment, traffic control, and city services; it is a holy city which embodies the values of three great religious traditions and which contains religious sites sacred to three religions; and it is a political city which symbolizes the national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians. Resolving the issue of Jerusalem means dealing with all three of these dimensions in a way that harms no one's interests and promotes the interests of all. And I believe it can be done.
Q. The Camp David summit was a landmark in terms of tackling for the first time the core issues, and at the same time it did not produce the hoped-for final agreement. Are you worried that reducing your personal involvement in the process would lead to a speedy deterioration of the situation?
The President. One of the remarkable aspects of the Camp David experience was that Israelis and Palestinians engaged on the core issues in an unprecedented manner. They broke taboos and discussed issues seriously and not on the basis of mere rhetoric and slogans. I am ready to do my part. To do so effectively, both sides will need to be ready to make historic decisions and, on the most sensitive issues, recognize that both must be satisfied.
Confidentiality of the Peace Process
Q. Did you receive a letter from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat recently? What can you tell us about it?
The President. One of the reasons Arabs and Israelis continue to look to the United States for help is that we protect their confidences. I have great respect for Chairman Arafat, and I'm sure you understand that I'm not going to start now by talking publicly about letters either from him or Prime Minister Barak.
Q. Are you willing to issue an unconditional invitation for Arafat and Prime Minister Barak to come to Washington and give peace another shot?
The President. I'm willing to do anything if it will help Israelis and Palestinians reach an agreement. At the same time, I know that the two sides need to reflect on what happened at Camp David and work together. Without an Israeli-Palestinian foundation on the substance of the issues, the United States cannot play its role effectively. That process got a big boost at Camp David. It needs to be continued now. Both leaders must be ready to make historic decisions.
Egypt's Role in the Peace Process
Q. There has been criticism of Egypt's role. What is your view?
The President. The fact is that all that has happened since the original Camp David in September 1978, including Madrid and Oslo, is a vindication of the courageous and visionary policy of Egypt. Egypt was a pioneer for peace and continues to be a key partner for the United States. We agree on the fundamentals of the peace process, and we will not be able to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on these core issues without close consultation with Egypt. We are engaged in such a process today.
SEPTEMBER 6, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, the deadline set by Israel and the Palestinians is a week from today. Do you have any reason to believe that there might be something worked out by this time, or would you like the parties to discard the deadline?
President Clinton. Well, I haven't met with them yet, but I think that--I think we can work through that if there's a sense of progress-- and one of the things I hope I have a chance to talk to President Putin about--but I think the main thing they have to decide is whether there is going to be an agreement within what is the real calendar, which is the calendar that is ticking in the Middle East against the political realities in Israel as well as for the Palestinians. There's a limit to how long they have, and it's not very much longer.
OCTOBER 2, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, in your talks with the Israelis and Palestinians, do you get the impression that the recent violence is helping them move along towards wanting to reach an agreement? Or is it hurting things?
The President. Well, in the short run, it's hurting them, because they can't do anything on the peace process until people stop dying and the violence stops. But when the smoke clears here, it might actually be a spur to both sides as a sober reminder to what the alternative to peace could be. So we have to hope and pray that will be the result.
OCTOBER 25, 2000
Situation in the Middle East
Q. In the Middle East, can Yasser Arafat be considered a reliable partner for peace while he is releasing Palestinian militants from jail and actually giving them decisionmaking roles? Can he be reliable?
The President. Well, as you know, part of what the parties agreed to at Sharm al-Sheikh was a certain specific set of security measures which were, by agreement of the parties, kept confidential. But I think it's quite important that, as I think it was reported in the morning press, that I had a conversation with Chairman Arafat. I talked with him and Prime Minister Barak yesterday. I talk to them several times a week now. And one of the things we need to do is to have people who are interested in violence off the streets and the people who are interested in ending the violence out there doing what they're capable of doing.
A big part of what the parties recognized at Sharm al-Sheikh was that it's impossible to maintain this uneasy status quo, where we've come so far in the peace process, but the big and most difficult issues remain. We can't expect there to be a reliable peace process unless we can reduce the violence. That's the real answer to your question. We would like to see, and I think that the Israelis would like to see, a resumption of the peace process, but both parties have got to do what they said they'd do at Sharm and get the violence down, so we can open up the possibility of peace again.
Q. Mr. President, do you think that Chairman Arafat can still retain sufficient influence over his people to stop the violence in the West Bank and Gaza?
The President. I think the violence can be dramatically reduced. I think that there are probably some people within the Palestinian territories, and probably some people within Israel, that are not within total control of Chairman Arafat or even the Israeli Government. But I do think Chairman Arafat can dramatically reduce the level of violence.
The problem, as I have been saying for years and years to the people in the region, is that once you actually start a peace process and people's expectations get built up and you have a commitment to peaceful resolution of these issues, violence is no longer a very good tool to achieve political objectives. It always, in the end, will be counterproductive. Why? Because if you look at the pattern, what you have to do is, you stir the people up--you get the people all stirred up so that they believe that violent reactions are legitimate--and then you can't just turn mass emotions on and off, like you can a water tap. It's just not that simple.
So I think that it's very important--I think what we did at Sharm was to put at least a speed bump on the road to the dramatic deterioration of the situation. But I don't think that we should ask ourselves whether he has 100 percent control, because the truth is, none of us know the answer to that, and nobody has 100 percent control of any situation. The real and fundamental question is, can the level of violence be substantially reduced by a sustained effort? If the parties do what they agreed to do at Sharm, the answer to that is a resounding yes.
Q. Mr. President, to follow up on that question and one other question, you said that you do believe he is capable of reducing the violence. So are you saying that he hasn't tried to do that? And secondly, there was a poll out today in Israel that showed that if there was an election today, Netanyahu would beat Barak 2-1. And are you concerned at all that in your attempts to be an honest broker and the way the violence has continued that you've somehow sold out Barak, that he will no longer be a leader in Israel in a few weeks, in a few months from now, and that the peace process will inevitably be over once that happens?
The President. Well, the short answer to your question is no, because he made the decisions that he made--he made very courageous decisions, and he's in a difficult position now because he's getting the worst of both worlds. I mean, he reached out to the Palestinians, and he showed enormous courage in doing so. And we did not get an agreement at Camp David, although it was, on balance, quite a positive thing.
I will say again, you can't maintain this status quo. We either have to shut the violence down and get back to the peace process, or there is going to be at least a level of anxiety, mistrust, and a worsening of relations, which I don't think would be good for anybody.
But I think that--I will say what I said the day the Camp David talks ended. Prime Minister Barak knew what he was doing. He took a big chance. He did it because after years in the Israeli military, he reached the same conclusion that Yitzak Rabin reached, that in the end, the best guarantee of Israel's security is a sustainable peace with all of her neighbors. He knew there would be bumps along the road and that there would be points at which the process would be ragged. He made a decision that he was trying to go for the long-term security of Israel. And events in the next several days will determine whether or not we can get back on that path.
That's my reaction. I think it can be done, and I think the parties can do it, and I'm going to do my best to see what I can do to be helpful. But we've got to get the level of violence down. This peace with the Israelis and the aspirations of the Palestinians can, in the end, only be fulfilled by agreement.
We called at Sharm for a commission to look into what happened, to try to make sure it shouldn't happen again. We can do that, but the critical pillars for a good situation in the Middle East are the absence of violence and the presence of negotiations and continued progress. And those are the things that all the people should be focusing on. Those are the things that I've been working on every day for the last couple of weeks now.
OCTOBER 27, 2000
Situation in the Middle East
Q. Four more Palestinians died this morning in clashes with Israeli troops. Are you trying even harder now to try to arrange separate meetings with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat, or do you think that violence still has to stop before there is even any point in bringing them here?
The President. I think there has to be a much lower level of violence before they could meet together and talk about the long-term prospects for peace. I worked on this for several hours yesterday, and we obviously keep up with it. And I'm very disturbed about today, because we actually had 2 or 3 good days here, where there was very little violence.
We're trying to get to the bottom of seeing what happened and see what, if anything, we can do to undermine the causes of today's violence so that it won't recur. But we've got to get the level of violence down before there can be a resumption in negotiations.
In terms of who comes here when, that is still subject to discussion. We're talking to the Israelis. We're talking to the Palestinians. We're talking with others around the world, and--look, I'm working really hard on this. I'm frustrated--I'm just as frustrated as you are, and it's heartbreaking. We've just got to try to get a hold of it, and I--but don't lose sight of the fact that we had 3 pretty good days. And I would say to the people in the region not to lose sight of the fact that we did, and tomorrow needs to be a good day, not a bad day, because of what happened today.
Q. One more on the Middle East. How can you have peace in the Middle East until you train the younger generations of both Palestinians and Israelis to stop hating each other?
The President. Well, you know, that's--I must say, that's what the Seeds of Peace program was about and a lot of these young Palestinians and young Israelis, along with other young Middle Easterners I've met, young Jordanians and young Egyptians, in the Seeds of Peace program, young people from other Arab countries.
I think, obviously, a big part of what is driving these demonstrations is a profound alienation of young people in the Palestinian community who have not seen any economic benefits from peace over the last 8 years, and who despair that it will ever actually be completed. I think finding a way to reach out to the young and give them some more positive contact with each other across the lines that divide them is very important.
I think one of the best things I've seen in the whole region over the last 8 years is this Seeds of Peace program and what these young people have done together. And that kind of dialog is what has to replace the bullets and the rocks.
NOVEMBER 4, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Mr. Diaz-Balart. We'll talk about the Middle East real quick before we go to Latin America, which is a subject dear to our viewers' hearts. Some critics have said that the United States, your administration, has been so keen on pushing for some kind of concessions on both sides, that maybe it's become an American agenda in the Middle East, versus the Americans acting as brokers and as objective people who can help the system.
The President. I don't think that's a fair criticism. Here's why. We, all along, have basically facilitated what the parties wanted to do. Now, when we met at Camp David, we met knowing that there might not be an agreement. But we did it because both parties were afraid that they were coming up on the September deadline for the declaration of a Palestinian state without an agreement, and that without further progress on these tough issues, we might have a real mess there, even worse than what we've been through.
So what I tried to do was to explore--when they reach an impasse, I did what President Carter did, way back at Camp David I, between Israel and Egypt. If they reach an impasse, then you can offer an idea to see if both sides will take it. But it can never be America's agenda. All we can ever do is try to be an honest and fair broker, because we don't have to live with the consequences. The people that have to live with the consequences are the Israelis and the Palestinians. So for us to try to force something on them is a grave mistake.
On the other hand, the consequences of not making peace have been evident these last 3 or 4 weeks over there. And they are just horrible. So we should nudge them when we can, and as long as both sides trust us, we can nudge them without them thinking it's our agenda, because they know when they have to get off--they know when they can't do something.
NOVEMBER 14, 2000
Situation in the Middle East
Q. I was going to ask you if there really is anything left to be done in the Middle East, whether diplomats can now cause what's happening in the streets to stop happening?
The President. I think it depends on whether we can reduce the violence to the point where it's possible to resume negotiations.
Q. Can you do that?
The President. The unbelievable irony of the present situation is, with this level of violence is unfolding in the aftermath of the first serious discussion, official discussion that the Israelis and the Palestinians had, which occurred at Camp David on the serious, difficult final status issues of the Oslo agreement. And I might add, after Camp David, they continued to talk in informal ways. And they know that while there are still differences between them, they are agonizingly close to a resolution of these fundamental issues.
I think they also know that violence begets violence and that in the end they're still going to be neighbors. So they're either going to keep killing each other at varying rates with one side feeling beleaguered, the Israelis, and the others feeling oppressed, the Palestinians, or they're going to come to grips with this and complete the process they agreed to complete when they signed the agreement on the White House lawn in September of 1993.
So that's the frustration. The answer to your question is, yes, there's more that can be done, but I do not believe it can be done with this level of violence going on. I just don't think that's possible.
Q. How do you get control of that--Sharm al-Sheikh, you weren't able to do it there. You've had these----
The President. The Sharm al-Sheikh agreement was perfectly fine. It just hasn't been implemented. So that's why I saw Arafat and Barak this week, and I think within--in this coming week you'll see whether there is going to be any kind of effort to change course.
You know, somebody has got to quit shooting. And I think the demonstrations in the daytime have gone down among the Palestinians, but the nighttime shooting hasn't. I think everyone understands now that it may not be possible for Chairman Arafat to control everything every Palestinian does immediately. It may not be possible for Prime Minister Barak to control everything every Israeli does immediately. But this thing can be reduced dramatically if they want to get back to the negotiating table. I think the Israelis will respond in kind if the Palestinian shootings will diminish now. You know, we had a rough day today, and the Palestinians said it was in retaliation for the shooting of the resistance leader the other day. We'll just have to see what happens.
But the ironic answer to your question is, every time I talk to them, I come away more convinced that we could actually have an agreement if they could free themselves of this cycle of violence and get back to the negotiating table.
And I think if they--I think there's a way to do it, and I'm going to try to see what we can do this week. That's all I can say. I'll do my best.
Q. A secret plan? A Clinton secret plan?
The President. No, I don't have a secret plan. I just think the more I talk about this sort of thing, the harder it is to do.
President's Experience in Office
What is my greatest regret? I may not be able to say yet. I really wanted, with all my heart, to finish the Oslo peace process, because I believe that if Israel and the Palestinians could be reconciled, first the State of Israel would be secure, which is very important to me, personally, and I think to the American people; secondly, the Palestinians would be in control of their own destiny; third, a peace with Syria would follow shortly; and fourth, the Middle East would not only be stable, which is good for America's interests, and not just because of the oil but the forces of progress and prosperity--progress and reconciliation, excuse me--would be stronger in all countries, including Iran. And I felt that I really think this is a sort of linchpin which could lead to a wave of positive developments all across the region. And I think that's very important.
Most of the people in the Middle East are young; there are all these kids out there. What are they going to--are they going to be raised to believe their faith requires them to hate the Israelis and the Americans and anybody else that's not part of their faith and politics? Are they going to be perpetually poor, even if they have a fairly decent education? Are we going to see that whole region being integrated into a global system and these children having a whole different future, in which they're reconciled with their neighbors in Israel and deeply involved in the world in a positive way? Are they going to be using the Internet to talk to terrorist cells about chemical and biological weapons, or are they going to be using the Internet to figure out how to grow new businesses and have new opportunities and build new futures for their families and their children? So if it doesn't happen I'll be profoundly disappointed, but I'll never regret a minute I spent on it because I think it's very important for the future.
I have never bought the thesis--on an inevitable collision course with the Islamic societies, or that the 21st century had to be dominated by terrorists with highly sophisticated weapons, fueled by broad popular resentment from people who are both disenfranchised and poor. I don't think it has to be that way, and I think if we could really make a big dent in this problem, it would give confidence to the forces of reason and progress throughout the region.
DECEMBER 27, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, has the Mideast peace process been set back by the Palestinian reluctance to accept your proposals for an agreement with Israel? And do you have any indication of whether Thursday's summit is going to go forward?
The President. Well, let me say first, this is the first chance I've had to comment on the substance here, so--the parties are engaged in a renewed effort to reach an agreement. Based on the months and months of discussion I've had on these final status issues, we have attempted to narrow the range of outstanding matters in a way that meets the essential needs of both sides.
The whole question now is whether they agree to continue the negotiation on the basis of these ideas. We've got to bring this to a conclusion if we're going to continue. The issues are extremely difficult, but they are closer than they have ever been before. And I hope and pray they will seize this opportunity. And I think that is all I should say at this time. The less I say, the better.
Q. Is that right--you haven't heard from them? It sounds like you have not. The Palestinian officials have been saying they cannot accept your proposals.
The President. Well, we'll see what happens. Prime Minister Barak has said that he would accept and continue the negotiations if the Palestinians would, and we'll see what happens. There's a lot of things going on now, and will be in the next several days, and I think, as I said, the less I say about them all, the better.
Q. Have you received a response, an actual response from the Palestinians yet?
The President. I've said all I'm going to say about this today.
DECEMBER 28, 2000
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, since last we asked you about the Middle East yesterday, there have been a number of developments. There have been bombings in Tel Aviv, an ambush. Prime Minister Barak did not go to that summit meeting in Egypt. What does that make you think about the prospects for nailing down a final agreement while you're still in office?
The President. Well, first of all, I condemn the violence. And I believe it is the violence and the bus that prevented the Prime Minister from going to Egypt; I don't think it is a lack of desire to pursue the peace process. Chairman Arafat is consulting with President Mubarak and, I believe, wants to talk to some of the other Arab leaders.
The important thing to note is that Israel has said--I put some ideas on the table. They go beyond where we were at Camp David; they meet the fundamental needs that both sides expressed at Camp David. And the Israelis said that they would agree to try to close the remaining gaps within the parameters of the ideas I put forward if the Palestinians will agree. And I think that this latest violence only reminds people of what the alternative to peace is.
Look, I expect there to be more in the next few days, as long as we're moving toward peace. There are a lot of enemies of peace in the Middle East, and there are a of people that have acquired almost an interest in the preservation of the status quo and the agony of the Israelis and the abject misery of most of the Palestinian population.
So I expect that we will have to continue to combat violence. But if we can get a peace which meets the fundamental longstanding desires of both parties and we start to have common efforts in security that go even beyond what we've had for the last few years and we start to have common efforts to build an economic future that benefits everyone, we will have more political and economic stability and we'll have a different future. But in the meanwhile, this thing has been going on a long time, and a lot of people don't want to give it up. And so they're going to try to disrupt it.
But if you just look at the last few months, it's the best argument for going ahead and finishing this. It's not going to get any easier. So this is by far the closest we have ever been. We are much closer than we were at Camp David, but there are still differences, and we're just waiting. If the--the Israelis have said they will meet on these conditions within the parameters that I laid out; if the Palestinians will, and the Palestinians are negotiating--or talking--excuse me--with the other Arabs, and we'll just see what happens.
Q. Back to the Middle East. Have you given the Palestinians any sort of deadline to give you an answer, or are they going to be given an unlimited amount of time to decide? And also, do you expect them to come here? Do you need to talk to them again before you can see if they are making headway?
The President. Well, first of all, I think it is obvious we are all operating under a deadline. We're all operating under a deadline; it's just some of us know what our deadline is.
What I have said to them is, there is no point in our talking further unless both sides agree to accept the parameters that I've laid out--not because I am trying to dictate this, but because I have listened to them for months and months and months--indeed for 8 years-- and this is the most difficult of all the issues I've dealt with. If there is a peace agreement here, I'm convinced it's within the four corners I laid out.
And then there are still--they both have legitimately a lot of questions, and they ought to ask those questions and get answers to them. But there is no point in even doing that unless we've got a basic framework so we can close. The time has come to close here. And the last several months have shown us this is not going to get any easier, and prolonging it is only going to make it worse. So I'm doing my best to facilitate what I think is what they want, which is to try to resolve this.
Q. Do you really think you can resolve it in the remaining--are you really optimistic that you can resolve it in the remaining 3 weeks? And, if you cannot, would you keep at it after you leave office?
The President. Well, the answer to your first question is, I think that if it can be resolved at all, it can be resolved in the next 3 weeks. I don't think the circumstances are going to get better. I think, in all probability, they'll get more difficult.
In terms of what I do when I leave office in the way of official work like that, that will be up to the next administration and any parties there or anywhere else in the world. That would not be for me to say.
One of the things I am determined to do when I leave--I'm going to work until the last day, because I'm drawing a paycheck, and I'm going to work to the last day. After that, I'm going to observe strictly what I think is the proper role of a former President. And we will have a new President, and he has to make the calls, and I will support that entirely. Around the world, I think that's very, very important. So anything I might ever do, indeed, for the whole rest of my life, not just in the first few years I'm out of office, will be determined by what whoever happens to be the President does or doesn't want me to do, and whatever parties in other parts of the world do or don't want me to do. That's just the only appropriate thing, and I will rigorously adhere to that.
Q. Have both sides asked you to, sir? Have both sides asked you to keep at it?
The President. No, I didn't say that. It depends upon--I think that it is--first of all, in this context, I believe that is exceedingly unlikely. That is, I honestly believe, given the pendency of the Israeli election and the developments within the Palestinian community and the larger Arab world, that the best chance they have to make an agreement is in the next 3 weeks.
Now, none of us who long for peace in the Middle East would ever give up on it. But I think that is both a theoretical question and an unlikely one, because if you look at where the forces are today, they have a better chance to do it now, if they're ever going to do it. It's just--it's really hard. If it weren't hard, they would have done it before this. I mean, they signed the Oslo agreement in '93 and put all this stuff off to the end because they knew it was hard, and it's still hard.
But if you look at where we've been the last few months, it's not going to get any easier. And I just hope that--I've said this before, I said it earlier--we had a confluence of Christmas, Hanukkah, and the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the Eid, and maybe there's something in the stars that will give them the divine strength and inspiration to do it. I don't think it's going to get easier.
Q. Well, are your terms negotiable, or are they just parameters?
The President. No, they're the parameters. The negotiations, in other words, have to occur within them.
Q. So East Jerusalem could be negotiated more?
The President. No. I do not want to talk more about this. They understand exactly what I mean. Both sides know exactly what I mean, and they know exactly what they still have to do, and that's enough right now.
Sources: Public Papers of the President