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THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
July 28, 2000
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
BY ISRAELI TELEVISION
The Roosevelt Room
July 27, 2000
5:42 P.M. EDT
Q Mr. President, time is of the essence. How do you consider right
now the relationship between Israel and the United States after the summit?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's very strong. But I think in view
of the courageous actions that the Prime Minister and the Israeli team took
at the summit, and in view of the withdrawal from Lebanon, I think some
review and strengthening is in order.
I plan to have a comprehensive review to improve our strategic
relationship. We're going to have talks that will start right away, with a
view toward what we can do to ensure that Israeli maintains its qualitative
edge, modernizes the IDF and meets the new threats that Israel and the
other countries will face in the 21st century.
Secondly, I want to have a memorandum of understanding done as soon as
possible with regard to our bilateral assistance, with a goal of making a
long-term commitment to the necessary support to modernize the IDF. I
think that's important.
The third thing that I think is significant is that we provide
assistance, which we will do, to Israel, to upgrade its security, in light
of the withdrawal from Lebanon. And in that context, we also want to try
to help the government of Lebanon to strengthen its ability to control
South Lebanon and to make progress toward a more normal existence. There
are some other things that we're reviewing.
You know, I have always wanted to move our embassy to West Jerusalem.
We have a designated site there. I have not done so because I didn't want
to do anything to undermine our ability to help to broker a secure and fair
and lasting peace for Israelis and for Palestinians. But in light of what
has happened, I've taken that decision under review and I'll make a
decision sometime between now and the end of the year on that.
And there are other things I think we have to be open to. But the
main thing that I want the people of Israel to know is that the United
States remains a friend and a partner, completely committed to the security
and future of Israel; continuing to believe that a just and lasting peace
is the best alternative, and the only alternative for absolute security.
But in the meanwhile, we have to do what we can to strengthen the capacity
of Israel to defend itself and to deepen our bilateral relationship. So I
intend to do that.
Q You mentioned the relocation of the IsraelI -- of the American
Embassy and put it in Jerusalem. Would you consider it in any
circumstances, even if there is no agreement?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think I should stand on the words I said. I
have always wanted to do it. I've always thought it was the right thing to
do. But I didn't want to do anything to undermine the peace process our
ability to be an honest broker, which requires that we be accepted by both
But it's something that I have taken under review now because of the
recent events. And I think that's all I should say about it now.
Q So what is the next move right now? As I understand, Prime
Minister Barak is saying that he's willing to go to another summit. What
do you think is the next move?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, first of all, we need to have their
people start talking directly again, and I think they will at a certain
level. And then the Prime Minister needs to have a little time, I think,
in Israel to deal with governmental issues. And I would hope that Chairman
Arafat and the other leaders in the Arab world will work to prepare their
public for the proposition that there can be no agreement without courage
and conscience, but also honorable compromise -- that's what agreements
The Palestinians did make some moves at these talks that have never
been made before. And while I made it clear in my statement, I thought
that the Prime Minister was more creative and more courageous. They did
make some moves, and the teams -- the negotiating teams, for the first time
in a formal setting where it counted, actually discussed these issues.
Now, you know, there had been side papers and discussions and all that
over the last seven years, since Oslo, but nothing like this, not ever.
And there's a reason when the Oslo agreements were signed that these final
status issues were put off until the end -- they're hard, they're
difficult, they're contentious. But the fact that they were actually there
talking and the fact that I saw changes emerge on both sides, including
within the Palestinian camp, I think is hopeful.
But what I want to do -- first of all, I'll do anything I can. I'll
be glad to convene another meeting. I'll go anywhere, do anything,
anything I can. But --
Q Will you consider a visit to Israel --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I just want to defer making any statements until
I make a decision about what is the best thing for the peace process. I
will act as soon as I can be helpful. We're doing things all the time,
including now, today, as we speak. But I don't want to do something that's
not helpful. And if we're going to make a difference, then the next time
we meet, both sides have to be prepared to make the decisions necessary to
conclude an agreement. And as soon as I'm convinced that's a good
possibility, I'll do what I can to make it happen.
Q You know, the discussion about Jerusalem during the summit opened
Pandora's Box in Israel. Can you assure the Israeli people that Barak
isn't going to divide Jerusalem?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say this. First of all, all the discussions
that were held were private and I have to honor that. What the Israelis
and Palestinians decide to say about it is their affair. But I can't be in
the position of violating the trust of either side.
What I believe is that Prime Minister Barak in no way ever compromised
the vital interests of the security of the State of Israel. One thing I
think that I can say without violating either side is that the most
progress in the talks was made in the area of security, where there was a
surprising amount of consensus and an understanding that neither side would
be secure after a peace agreement unless both were secure and unless both
worked together -- and there was no interest, fundamentally, in the
Palestinians in having a weak Israel, a vulnerable Israel, an Israel unable
to defend itself; and that the Palestinians would be stronger if they were
I think if there is one thing that should be encouraging to the people
of Israel, of all political parties and persuasions, it would be that.
There was a clear willingness to try to come to grips with what were very
different positions on this issue when they met, and come together. And I
was quite encouraged by that.
You know, Jerusalem is a difficult issue. But I believe that the
Prime Minister did everything he could to reach an agreement while
preserving the vital interests of Israel.
Q Israel is afraid that if Barak already made some concessions
right now, and that the Palestinians didn't make any concession -- in
Jerusalem -- so many people are afraid that if the negotiations will
resume, Israel will be asked to do, to make some more concessions. Can you
tell the Israeli people that you wouldn't ask Barak to give much more than
what he already was ready to give?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I don't think that he will ever do
anything that he believes undermines the vital interest of the people of
Israel and Jerusalem. And it is true that while the Palestinians,
themselves, didn't make some moves on Jerusalem, that Israel did more.
But nothing that I think undermined the vital interests of the people of
And I think that is an issue where -- and, frankly, most of the
discussion involved ideas embraced not formally by either side. And they
are not bound by it. So I believe that -- everybody pretty well knows
right now that there won't necessarily be a lot more movement of the same
kind. And we may have to have a resolution in some ways that no one has
quite thought of yet.
But I kept telling the Palestinians, and I will say again to the
world, that you cannot make an agreement over something as important as a
city that is the holiest place in the world -- to the Jews, to the
Christians and to the -- one of the holiest places in the world to the
Muslims -- if it is required of one side to say I completely defeated the
interest of the other side. If either side gets to say that at the end,
there won't be an agreement. There can't be.
There has to be a way to identify the legitimate interests -- and
there are legitimate interests in both sides, in Jerusalem, in such a way
that they are met and honored and that the sanctity of the Holy City is
uplifted. There has to be a way to do that. But, you know, it's not for
me to design a plan, they have to come to it. And I think they will come
to it if the people of Israel, and if the Palestinians will give their
leaders a clear message that they trust them not to compromise their vital
interest or their security; but beyond that, to be as flexible as possible,
to try to honorably accommodate each other's true interests.
Q During the talks, did you consider the possibility that maybe
Barak's concession will not pass a referendum?
THE PRESIDENT: I did. Of course, he has to be the final judge of
Q -- help him with that.
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me?
Q You can always advise him and help him with that, too.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, if they reach an agreement that they both
believe is right and honorable, and protects their vital interests and
their security, obviously I would do whatever I could to persuade the
people to support it. I don't know that I would have much influence, but I
would do whatever I could. I would certainly never countenance an
agreement that I thought undermined Israel's security, but you don't have
to worry about that. I don't think there was ever anything that was
clearer to me in these negotiations.
The people of Israel may differ with their Prime Minister on some of
the details, but they should never question whether he had the long-term
security and vital interests of Israel uppermost in his mind. That was
clear. And as I said, to me something that should be very encouraging is
that they really did make a lot of progress on the security issue. And
Israel was, I think, the big winner there. But only because the
Palestinians recognize that their security will be tied to Israel's
security if they make an agreement.
Q I'm sure that you know that the majority of Israeli, the people
admire your devotion to the peace process. And they ask themselves today
if President Clinton can't bring peace, which President of the United
States will do it?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would hope that any President would honor
America's historic commitment to Israel, and our decades of involvement in
the Middle East, and our attempt to be fair to the legitimate interests of
all the people of the region, including the Palestinians. I don't know if
anybody else will ever put the time in on this that I have, or have the
kind of personal, almost religious conviction I have about it.
But, keep in mind, this is an evolutionary process. If we don't
finish -- and I believe we can, and I still believe we will -- but if we
don't finish this year, the negotiating teams for the two sides, and the
attitudes of the people will be in a different place than they were because
of all that has happened over the last seven years, and especially because
of what happened at Camp David, as long as there is a constructive attitude
taken about it, and a deepened resolve to be frank with the public, and
that this is especially important for the Palestinians.
Q You are known as the tireless master of negotiating. What
happened there? How can both leaders resist the Clinton charm?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm afraid my charm and my reasoning abilities, at
least for just 15 days, cannot compare with the thousands of years of
history that go to the core of the identity of Israelis and Palestinians,
as regards Jerusalem. But that's okay; we made a lot of progress -- we got
people to talk about it, to deal with it, to think about it.
And I hope I prompted a lot of thinking about all the various options
available to them. There is more than one way to resolve this in a way
that's honorable for everyone.
But I must tell you, when we started these negotiations, I didn't
think we had a one in ten chance to succeed. And we actually got more done
than I thought we would.
I called this summit because I was afraid that the lack of progress
was spinning out of control. The parties, after all, promised each other
they would reach an agreement by the middle of September. And they'd never
even met to formally, frankly, openly discuss these issues -- ever.
So I think when you look at it in that context, it's -- you know, if I
were just sitting on the outside, and I didn't know any more about it, I
would be profoundly disappointed. I'd say, they've had seven years, what
have they been doing all this time? Well, you know what they've -- we've
had a lot of progress in the last seven years, an enormous amount. But
these final status issues were put off until the end because both sides
knew they were potentially explosive and agonizingly difficult.
So it wasn't really a matter of charm. Believe me, if I could have
prevailed by charming, cajoling, arguing, or just depriving them of sleep,
we would have a deal. The last two nights I went to bed at 5:00 a.m., in
the morning both nights. I did my best so I would by the last person
standing on both sides, you know. Of all the sides there.
But we just couldn't get there. And we won't get there until each
side decides. And this is the decision I think Prime Minister Barak made.
That he would go as far as he could without making any specific
commitments, because we had it organized so that neither side would be
So for people to say that he's bound by all these commitments, I don't
think that's an accurate reflection of the way I conducted the
negotiations. I went out of my way, especially as regards Jerusalem, to
set it up so that if either side were willing to float some ideas or
entertain some ideas, they wouldn't be exposed, and they could always take
them back if there was no agreement.
But both sides -- and this applies to the Palestinians, they're going
to have to think about this -- they have to decide that there is a solution
which meets their vital interests, that does not permit them, after it is
over, to say, I won and they lost. You have to be able to be able to say,
when this is over, We won; peace won; our children won; the future won. We
may -- yes, if we can get 100 percent of everything we wanted, no. Is it
an honorable compromise that preserves our vital interests and enhances our
security -- not just maintains it -- enhances it, yes. That has to be the
test. The test has to be that our vital interests are preserved, our
security is enhanced, our future is brighter, and neither side suffered a
cataclysmic defeat. That's not what a negotiation is.
Q Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to be that Egypt and Saudi
Arabia didn't help to persuade Arafat to make the necessary concessions to
have an agreement. It seems to be that this both allies of the United
States in this crucial moment couldn't deliver the goods.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that the truth is that because this had
never been discussed before between the two parties -- and because when we
went into the negotiations, they were usually secret or sacrosanct -- that
I'm not sure, number one, that they thought they knew enough to know what
to ask for. Although I did my best to try to get them to help, in general
terms, before the process started.
But I'm not sure they knew enough to know explicitly what to ask for.
Which won't be the case if we meet again. Because we're down the road
And, number two, I do believe that the public opinion among the
Palestinians, and throughout the Middle East, had not even sufficiently
discussed all these issues. You can see it was still operating at the high
level of rhetoric, you know. And at some point, there has to be a way of
saying, we have won by making sure the Israelis didn't lose. And the
Israelis have to be able to say, we have won by making sure the
Palestinians didn't lose. And that's -- it's harder to sell.
When you're dealing with something as involved as Jerusalem in these
peace talks, the only person who's going to get cheered is the person that
says, no, no, no. And that's an easy sell. You go out and say, no, and
you can get up the crowd, and they'll cheer you. But if that is the
attitude which prevails, then we won't get peace.
Q There is a right now in the Congress some proposal to eliminate
or prevent the use, aid to the Palestinians if they decide unilaterally to
declare about statehood. Hillary Clinton, your wife, is for this proposal.
What is your approach?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the bill has just been introduced. We don't
give a great deal of aid there, as you know. And a lot of it is --
Q But it's very symbolic.
THE PRESIDENT: Very symbolic. Well, let me just say this. I think
there should not be a unilateral declaration. And if there is, our entire
relationship will be reviewed, not confined to that. So I don't -- I make
it a practice normally when the bills are first introduced -- and I haven't
even reviewed them, not to comment -- but I think it would be a big
mistake to take a unilateral action and walk away from the peace process.
And if it happens, there will inevitably be consequences -- not just here,
but throughout the world, and things will happen. I would review our
entire relationship, including, but not limited to that.
Q If there will be agreement, what kind of support the Israeli
people can expect from the United States?
THE PRESIDENT: I will do my best to get the maximum amount of
support. One of the reasons I wanted very much to get the agreement this
time is that it would give us more time to pass an aid package through
Congress. But if there is an agreement, Israel will have further security
needs, there will be human costs involved. There will have to be some sort
of international fund set up for the refugees.
There is, I think, some interest, interestingly enough, on both sides,
in also having a fund which compensates the Israelis who were made refugees
by the war, which occurred after the birth of the State of Israel. Israel
is full of people, Jewish people, who lived in predominantly Arab countries
who came to Israel because they were made refugees in their own land.
That's another piece of good news I think I can reveal out of the
summit. The Palestinians said they thought those people should be eligible
for compensation, as well. So we'll have to set up a fund and we will
contribute. I went to the G-8 in Okinawa in part to give them a report,
and I asked the Europeans and the Japanese to contribute, as well. And
there will be other costs associated with this. So it will not be
Also, if there is an agreement and if the Palestinians set up a state
pursuant to an agreement, Israel has a strong interest in seeing it be
economically stronger and more self-sufficient, a better trading partner;
not just a supply of labor but also a country capable of buying Israeli
products in greater detail and growing together in the future. So there
will be economic issues that have to be dealt with.
I will try to get as much support as I possibly can for the United
States, but also as much support as I possibly can from Europe, from Japan
and from other people in the world.
Q With your permission, Mr. President, can you take us inside Camp
David and describe us one of the crucial moments, one of the crucial
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the only thing I can talk about without
revealing the substance of the talks, which I have promised not to do, is
the first time the talks almost broke up. Right before I went to Okinawa,
I thought the talks were over. I even went by and said goodbye to Chairman
Arafat. And I went by and said goodbye to Prime Minister Barak. And I was
walking around talking to the Palestinian and Israeli peace teams. And it
was obvious to me that they did not want to go, and that they feared that
if they left in the position the talks were then in, that there would be an
enormous harshness and recrimination, and it could wind up being a net
setback, if you will, for the peace process.
And then, all of a sudden, it became obvious to me that they didn't
want to go, that they wanted to keep trying, that they thought it was still
possible. So I went back around, I made two more visits. By then, it's
very late at night and I'm leaving at dawn the next day. It was like 1:30
a.m. or 1:45 a.m. I made two more visits to both Prime Minister Barak and
his team and to Chairman Arafat and his team.
And I finally concluded that they really didn't want to quit. And so
I invited them to stay. And I said that I had to go to the G-8 because the
United States had some strong interest in Okinawa -- it's a main base for a
lot of our forces in the Pacific -- and because I owed it to my partners to
go there to my last meeting, and because I wanted to ask them for money to
help the peace process. But that if they would stay, I would leave
Secretary Albright behind in charge and they could keep talking, and they
wanted to do it.
That was, I think, the pivotal moment which turned this from a
negative result to a positive result, even though we didn't get an
agreement. Because in the next few days, they relaxed, they began to talk,
the Palestinians began to open up a little bit, and we began to get a sense
that -- at least how we might get an agreement, even if the parties
couldn't reach it this time. In my mind, looking back on it, I think that
was a pivotal moment.
Q Finally, I wanted to ask you, many critics of yours are saying
that you are looking desperately for the missing chapter of your legacy,
and maybe you tried to overcome the impeachment process. Is the Middle
East issue is the missing chapter of this legacy?
THE PRESIDENT: No. Look, you know, I'm not proud of the personal
mistake I made, but I'm proud of what happened in the impeachment process.
As far as I'm concerned, we saved the United States Constitution. And I
think history will record it favorably to me and unfavorably to those who
did it. And I think I have a pretty good legacy here with our economy,
with our social progress on crime, on welfare, on education; on health
care, for the elderly, for children. And I am proud of what I have done in
the Middle East, in the Balkans, in Northern Ireland, in Africa, in Latin
This has nothing to do with my legacy. All my life, I have wanted to
see peace in the Middle East, and I promised myself when I got elected
President, I would work until the last day to achieve it. This is not
about me; it's about the children who live in the Middle East. It's about
whether those children will be living together or living apart, whether
there will be fighting or learning together.
Q And you're convinced it can be done?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. And if it doesn't happen while I'm here,
I just want to know that I have done everything I possibly could to make
sure it will happen as soon as possible. But I am absolutely convinced
that we can do it and that we should do it before the end of the year,
because the parties have committed themselves to this September deadline.
The parties came to Camp David; nobody had to come. Prime Minister Barak
thought it was a good time and I knew if we didn't do it, we would never
get around to dealing with this.
We have a saying in America, this is like going to the dentist without
having your gums deadened, you know? It's like having somebody pull your
teeth with no painkiller. This is not easy. This was hard for these
people. But if we hadn't started -- you know, you never get to the end of
the road unless you get out on the road and take the first step. And this
was a huge, important thing.
Q Mr. President, thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: You're welcome.
END 6:12 P.M. EDT
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