Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for the inability to reach a peace deal that would end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Thursday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York, the former U.S. president was quoted by Foreign Policy magazine as claiming that Netanyahu lost interest in the peace process as soon as two basic Israelis demands seemed to come into reach: a viable Palestinian leadership and the possibility of normalizing ties with the Arab world.
"The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn't seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu," Clinton said, adding that Israel wanted "to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there's no question -- and the Netanyahu government has said -- that this is the finest Palestinian government they've ever had in the West Bank."
Furthermore, the former U.S. president is quoted by Foreign Policy as saying that Israel was also on the verge of being recognized by Arab nations adding that the "king of Saudi Arabia started lining up all the Arab countries to say to the Israelis, ‘if you work it out with the Palestinians ... we will give you immediately not only recognition but a political, economic, and security partnership."
"This is huge.... It's a heck of a deal," Clinton said, adding: "That's what happened. Every American needs to know this. That's how we got to where we are."
"The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu's government's continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he's just not going to give up the West Bank," he added.
Clinton also said he felt the Palestinians would accept the deal rejected by former PA President Yasser Arafat in 2000 negotiations with then Prime Minister Ehud Barak, saying that Palestinian leaders "have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before -- my deal -- that they would take it."
"For reasons that even after all these years I still don't know for sure, Arafat turned down the deal I put together that Barak accepted," he was quoted by Foreign Policy as saying. "But they also had an Israeli government that was willing to give them East Jerusalem as the capital of the new state of Palestine."
Clinton also added, as to the chances of Mideast peace being achievable in the foreseeable future, in light of past failures, saying that the "two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics, which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not, were [Yitzhak] Rabin's assassination and [Ariel] Sharon's stroke."
Clinton's comments come as a Palestinian delegation headed by Abbas is planned to officially submit its statehood bid to the United Nations later Friday, with both Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu scheduled to address the General Assembly.
Despite heavy pressure from the West, Abbas remained determined to formally apply for UN recognition of a Palestinian state Friday.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with Abbas Thursday night in an effort to convince him not to seek Security Council recognition, warning that the U.S. would use its veto power to block it. Lower-level American officials also met with Abbas several times, but to no avail.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reiterated on Thursdays that Abbas' statehood bid will not contribute to the peace process and will merely delay the start of negotiations - which, she added, are the only way the Palestinians can actually achieve independence.
American officials also continued their effort to mobilize enough Security Council votes to defeat the statehood bid without a U.S. veto. Germany has already announced it won't vote yes, and Rice said she is convinced other countries will do the same. America, she said, is not the only country to realize that the UN gambit is unproductive.
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