Israel shares its fate with its neighbors and therefore should consider what kind of future it wants, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Monday during a visit to Israel, adding that the two-state solution remained the only viable option for the region.
- Peres Academic Center to reimburse JNF for Clinton speech, in wake of public outcry
- Top businessmen warn Netanyahu: Stalled peace process will ruin Israel's economy
- The Angelina Jolie dilemma
- Tone of SNL’s 'Really!?!' marks Clinton’s queries on Israeli peace perceptions
Speaking at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot, the former U.S. president said he always felt at home in Israel and that he loves the country more than words can express.
Clinton also called President Shimon Peres, who is celebrating his 90th birthday, one of the world's greatest visionaries. "He is always thinking about tomorrow. He promised that he would attend my 90th birthday, that he would speak at my funeral. The rest of you are here celebrating his wisdom - I came to get his diet."
Clinton also said that the worst day in his own presidency was when then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
The former U.S. president said that while it would make sense for Israel and Arab states to prepare for the worst, focusing on the negative would hinder any chance of creating something good.
"Your neighbors are still your neighbors," he said. "One way or the other you are going to share the future with them."
Praising Peres' role in establishing Israel's security, Clinton said that had Israel not built "a credible defense" it would not have survived, but added that leaders should sometimes take risks. "Some people, including president Peres and I, believe that risk is a part of life... sometimes we are right, sometimes they are right."
Clinton also said that no credible alternative had yet been presented to the two-state solution to preserve Israel's character as a Jewish and democratic state.
Describing the issue of voting rights in the occupied territories as an 'existential question' that must be answered by Israelis, Clinton expressed concern over the prospects faced by Israel in the face of its presence in the West Bank.
"Democracy is not only majority rule, but also minority rights," he said. "The question [the Israeli public has to] confront is, is it really ok with you if Israel has people in its territory that will never be allowed to vote? If so, can you say with a straight face that this is a democracy? If you let them vote, can you live with not being a Jewish state?
"The longer this goes on, the tougher [the implementation of a two-state solution] is going to get," he added.
Clinton, who spoke after Peres at the conference, said he would donate the money he received for his appearance to a scholarship fund for the college's students. The announcement came following public outcry surrounding the payment for Clinton's speech, which compelled the Jewish National Fund to withdraw its financial support for the lecture. The Peres Academic Center later announced that it would raise the requisite funds, $500,000.
The event, which was attended by many of Israel's most prominent business personages, featured lavish catering, a fireworks display, and scores of singers, including Miri Masika, David D'or and Keren Peles. A children's chorus sang the Beatles' 'Let It Be,' and videos were projected on the building's walls.