Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Teves 5761 - January 24, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
A New Era in Washington -- and in the Middle East

As the most powerful job in the world passed from William Jefferson Clinton to George W. Bush last Shabbos, it almost certainly marked the end of an era in the relations between the United States and the State of Israel.

The entire Oslo process (it is far from obvious that it is appropriately called a "peace" process) took place with the active participation of President Clinton, from the first agreement signed on the White House lawn in September 1993, a year and a half after Clinton took office, until the final days of his administration in January 2001 in final attempts to reach an agreement before Clinton became a private citizen again. What will be in the future, is very murky. What is clear is that it will not be the same.

There is no doubt that Clinton and his government were very aware of the benefits to the United States in reaching a peace settlement in the Middle East. That is certainly proper and even desirable.

Yet the efforts of the 42nd American President, and the feelings that lie behind those efforts, went well beyond that. Bill Clinton has genuine feelings for Israel, and he also tried to serve Israel's interests as well -- at least as he understood them.

There was never a U.S. President who gave so much of his time and energy to the Middle East. To Clinton, it seems, time was no object in his quest for peace in the Middle East, and he was willing to meet with anyone or to hold a negotiating session at any level, if it showed any promise of producing real progress in reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.

His many visits to the region, to be involved in the events and to see the issues firsthand, underscored Clinton's feelings. Most U.S. Presidents never come at all; Clinton came several times.

On the Israeli side, the participants in the process that began at Oslo changed several times. President Clinton was there all along, and he was very much a part of it.

It will take some time for the new situation, without Clinton, to fully sink in with the participants. After all, for the past seven years there was some sort of continuity, largely provided by Clinton.

As with the American economy, whose success is considered his greatest achievement, the Oslo process shows signs of great weakness and possibly collapse as Clinton leaves office. Ehud Barak has tested the limits of the process with his offers -- for which, incidentally, he has no parliamentary or electoral backing. The Arab side has not even shown any signs of interest or sympathy. Barak may well have demonstrated the impossibility of secular Jews reaching an accommodation with the Arabs.

One of the great tests of its future is the elections in Israel. Ehud Barak is the one currently most identified with the Clinton process, and his chances of being elected seem very minimal. Even if he does win, somehow, he lacks the support of the Knesset for the far-reaching concessions that he has offered. Sharon is saying that he can make peace, but few people really believe that he can.

George W. Bush and his cabinet are not likely to be so interested in Israel and the Palestinians. It is too early to say if this is good or bad for the Jews, as the two sides struggle to solve their problems without the active involvement of the Uncle in Washington.

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