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
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.