It is becoming a rite of passage for lame-duck American presidents to say a few thoughtful words about the Palestinians before they head out to seek their fortune in book deals and fat speaking fees. After eight years in the White House that included the full seven-year life span of the Oslo agreement, President Clinton saved his strongest statement on the subject of Palestinian rights for a “farewell” speech before the Israel Policy Forum, a pro-Israeli group, at the Waldorf Astoria on Jan 8, 2000.
Even his detractors have come to respect Clinton’s grasp of policy issues, domestic and foreign. No previous American president had really studied the Israeli/Palestinian conflict like this President. He can certainly qualify as an expert on the subject. One of his mentors, the late American Statesman Senator Fulbright of Arkansas, was one of the few men in the Senate who consistently rebuffed intense lobbying from the Israel Firsters. This is a President who came to the White House with a good basic understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
It is unfortunate that Clinton was not willing to pay the political price of speaking up for the Palestinians at an earlier date. He has said little about the three months of wanton carnage that has been inflicted on Palestinian civilians by the latest episode of IDF rage. He has not condemned the policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders and he has consistently turned a blind eye to the continued expansion of the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
And now, as he packs his bags, he has decided to make a statement about how the Palestinians should not be used as political footballs. He conveniently forgets that he played quarterback in a number of these ‘football’ games and he always chose to play on the Israeli team. That is why he is giving farewell speeches to pro-Israeli pressure group. He said farewell to the Palestinians eight years ago.
A few days short of retirement, he now has a few moments to mention Palestinian suffering and their “resilience and courage”. He now is bold enough to tell the Israelis “You discovered that your land is also their land, the homeland of two peoples. There is no choice but for you to divide this land into two states for two people and make the best of it.”
Where have you been, Mr. President? Over 300 Palestinians were killed by the unrestrained violence of the Israeli occupation army. Could you not have said a word while you were in Vietnam? Could you not have urged the Israelis to use less lethal means for crowd control? Why did you not say anything in the exclusive 75-minute interview with the New York Times, at the height of the uprising?
Did Hillary’s New York Senate campaign require you to retain your silence on the matter? Did Al “the solicitor” Gore implore you to consider his campaign financing schemes? Were you concerned about a backlash from the New York Times? Did you want Hillary to firm up her $8 million book deal before you said a word to comfort the Palestinians?
For two full terms, you have allowed the Israelis to have their way with the Palestinians. No one doubts that you were fully engaged in the “peace process”, but you were also fully married to the Israelis. Many of your advisers were picked from the ranks of the pro-Israeli lobbies. Did you expect them to be neutral?
Did the destiny of the Palestinians have to be so tragically linked to issues like campaign financing and appeasing Bill’s friends who have “emotional ties ” to Israel? How about those media guys? Don’t they just love to hate the Palestinians? Obviously, you and Hillary both had the Media barons and their polls on your mind when you were deciding the fate of the Palestinians.
Mr. President, as you contemplate retirement, would you consider not making a book deal at the expense of the Palestinians? Could you possibly ask Hillary to apologize for her disgraceful behavior during the campaign? As you drift into civilian life, may you live a life vivid with the memories of the dead young Palestinian who might have been saved, had you found it convenient to speak out at an earlier date. Before you take your first swing at a favorite golf course, may you always have a moment to reflect on the 1000 days of indecisiveness that led to the slaughter in Bosnia? Mr. President may you spend a lifetime wondering about Palestine, Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya and Iraq and a dozen other places where you hesitated to do the right thing and where your mistakes proved to be so deadly for millions of ordinary human beings. And may you never walk away from that part of your legacy. Goodbye, Bill.