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