Text size

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton on Sunday said that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could possibly be solved during President Barack Obama's tenure, and urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama to maintain a policy of honesty during their private talks with each other.

The visiting former president, who said Saturday that peace could have been achieved had then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin not been slain, told Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea: "You should not think that President Obama is your enemy."

Clinton also recommended that Netanyahu and Obama act diplomatically in public, so as not to confound the issues in the eyes of the media. Their seemingly shaky relationship thus far should not be seen as any indication of future partnership, he said.

"No American president can serve in good conscience and not be committed to the security of Israel," Clinton said.

He added, however, that the U.S. must be free to express its opinions on the conflict without forcing Jerusalem to accept its every demand.

"As long as you believe that American is with you at some core emotional level, we can have a conversation about anything," Clinton said. "If you ever stop believing that then it does not matter what our position is."

Clinton said that he would not be surprised if Netanyahu's government makes "an agreement or makes a proposal that would be beyond anything anyone expects."

Referring to Israel's willingness to curb settlement growth, he reiterated the praise his wife, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressed last month, when she described Israel's gestures as unprecedented.

"This is the first time that any Israeli government has said we will not issue an new permits and not have any new settlements and that should be enough to open the door and start talking," the former president said.

Clinton went on to urge Israel to recognize the importance of Obama being accepted among non-extremists in the Muslim world.

The unbalanced demographics in the region, with higher birth rates among the Palestinians and their growing capability of rocket technology, shows the urgency of achieving peace as soon as possible, he said.

"The trajectory of technology is not your friend.... You need to get this done and you do have partners," Clinton said.

The former president also told the forum that Iran's contentious nuclear program was not in itself the main issue facing the West, but the implications that it would encourage other regional entities to seek nuclear capabilities for themselves.