Clinton on the record, from Oslo to Camp David

washington | Bill Clinton covers a range of issues in his 957-page autobiography, “My Life,” revealing his frustration with the Mideast peace process.

About 68 pages scattered through the book are devoted to the Mideast.

Writing about the peace process, Clinton calls himself a failed president — not because of the scandals, the legislative battles or even his personal life — but because of the peace in the Middle East that he never achieved. He blames Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for missing the best opportunity he ever had for a treaty.

Clinton was more optimistic earlier on. He recounts humorous stories like the trouble he had getting Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat to attend the September 1993 White House signing of the Declaration of Principles behind the Oslo peace accord.

Clinton writes: “I badly wanted Rabin and Arafat to attend and urged them to do so; if they didn’t, no one in the region would believe they were fully committed to implementing the principles, and, if they did, a billion people across the globe would see them on television and they would leave the White House even more committed to peace than when they arrived.”

Arafat, however, wanted to wear a revolver.

But Clinton wrote: “I balked and sent word that he couldn’t bring the gun. He was here to make peace; the pistol would send the wrong message, and he certainly would be safe without it.”

Clinton strove to get Arafat and Rabin to shake hands. Rabin was reluctant. “I told Yitzhak that if he was really committed to peace, he’d have to shake Arafat’s hand to prove it.”

Before long, Clinton writes, “Rabin and Arafat would develop a remarkable working relationship, a tribute to Arafat’s regard for Rabin and the Israeli leader’s uncanny ability to understand how Arafat’s mind worked.”

But all that would end with Rabin’s assassination.

Clinton writes: “By the time he was killed, I had come to love him as I had rarely loved another man. In the back of my mind, I suppose I always knew he had put his life at risk, but I couldn’t imagine him gone, and I didn’t know what I would or could do in the Middle East without him.”

Clinton discusses his decision to say “Shalom, chaver” — Hebrew for “Goodbye, friend” — at Rabin’s funeral. The phrase since has become famous in Israel.

“I had a number of Jewish staff members who spoke Hebrew and knew how I felt about Rabin; I am still grateful that they gave me the phrase,” Clinton recalls. “Shimon Peres later told me that chaver means more than mere friendship; it evokes the comradeship of soul mates in common cause. Soon, ‘Shalom, chaver’ began to appear on billboards and bumper stickers all across Israel.”

Recalling his historic December 1998 speech to the Palestinian National Council in Gaza, Clinton writes: “Just before I got up to speak, almost all the delegates raised their hands in support of removing the provision calling for the destruction of Israel from their charter. It was the moment that made the whole trip worthwhile. You could almost hear the sighs of relief in Israel; perhaps Israelis and Palestinians actually could share the land and the future after all.”

The former president also reflected on the Camp David summit in July 2000, considered to be his last chance to mediate a peace treaty. “It was frustrating and profoundly sad, he writes. “There was little difference between the two sides on how the affairs of Jerusalem would actually be handled; it was about who got to claim sovereignty.”

Efforts continued to reach a peace agreement that fall, as Clinton’s term drew rapidly to a close. “It was assumed that Palestine would get the Muslim and Christian quarters, with Israel getting the other two. Arafat argued that he should have a few blocks of the Armenian quarter because of the Christian churches there. I couldn’t believe he was talking to me about this.

“At times Arafat seemed confused, not wholly in command of the facts. I had felt for some time that he might not be at the top of his game any longer, after all the years of spending the night in different places to dodge assassins’ bullets, all the countless hours on airplanes, all the endless hours of tension-filled talks. Perhaps he simply couldn’t make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman,” Clinton continues.

Clinton — who received 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 1992 and 78 percent four years later — praises the American Jewish community for its role in support of his peace efforts.

“The American-Jewish community had been very good to me,” he writes, explaining his decision to unveil the details of his peace plan at an Israel Policy Forum dinner in early 2001, when he had barely two weeks left in office. “Regardless of what happened, I thought I owed it to them to explain my proposal.”

In revealing why he refused to pardon Jonathan Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst and American Jew convicted of spying for Israel, Clinton writes, “For all the sympathy Pollard generated in Israel, he was a hard case to push in America; he had sold our country’s secrets for money, not conviction, and for years had not shown any remorse.”

Plus, CIA Director George Tenet objected to Pollard’s release, threatening to resign if he were pardoned. “I didn’t want to do it, and Tenet’s comments closed the door.”

Clinton had to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had demanded Pollard’s release in exchange for Israeli concessions at the 1998 Wye River Plantation talks with the Palestinians, to agree to the deal even without Pollard.