In First Appearance Since Election, Bill Clinton Talks of Missed Opportunities for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

At Brookings Institution event commemorating Yitzhak Rabin, Clinton praised the late Israeli prime minister, saying that there could have been a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians if Rabin hadn't been killed in 1995.

Bill Clinton at the Brookings Institution event to discuss 'Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman,' March 9, 2017,
KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke in public for the first time since the 2016 election, appearing on Thursday at a Washington, D.C. event in honor of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Clinton used the stage to praise Rabin, and to warn about the dangers of "an us versus them world" and of an increased global support for nationalism.

The Brookings Institution event was dedicated to the launch of "Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman," a new biography written by Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. during Clinton's first term as president. Clinton spoke at length about his friendship with Rabin and admiration of the slain Israeli leader. He said that had Rabin not been assassinated by a right-wing Israeli extremist in 1995, there could have been a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I remain convinced that had he lived we would have achieved a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians by 1998 and we’d be living in a different world today," Clinton said. He explained that then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "was in awe" of Rabin and respected him. When peace talks collapsed under his watch in late 2000, Clinton put most of the blame for the failure on Arafat, but in the event on Thursday, he said that had Rabin stayed alive, things could have gone differently.

Clinton repeated a statement he has made a number of times in the past, that the day of Rabin's murder -November 4th, 1995 - was the worst day of his entire time as President. "I loved him very much and I still miss him," an emotional Clinton told the crowd. He recalled a conversation with Rabin in which the Israeli leader told him that he decided to pursue peace with the Palestinians because without an agreement, "Israel very soon will either no longer be a democracy or no longer be a Jewish state.”

Clinton praised Rabin for showing courage "not just under fire," but also as an elected official. "He never pretended that the answers will be easy," Clinton said of Rabin. He also brought Rabin as an example for "the kind of leadership" that the world needed, and warned against the current wave of nationalism that is spreading throughout the West. 

"It’s like we’re all having an identity crisis at once, and it is an inevitable consequence of the economic and social changes that have occurred an increasingly rapid pace,” Clinton examined. "And it always comes down to two things — are we going to live in an us and them world, or a world that we live in together? If you got that, in every age and time, the challenges we face can be resolved in a way to keep us going forward instead of taking us to the edge of destruction." Clinton did not specifically mention President Donald Trump, who defeated his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the last election.