Bill Clinton held Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat responsible for the collapse of Middle East peace efforts, and told him so, the former president said in an interview published ahead of his new book’s release.
Clinton said that as he was preparing to leave the White House, Arafat thanked him for his work and called him a great man.
“I replied: ‘I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one,'” Clinton said.
He said then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was ready to make major concessions for peace in 2000 but Arafat was not able to “make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman … he just couldn’t bring himself to say yes”.
But Clinton said his successor George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cannot ignore Arafat if they want to make peace in the Middle East.
“Unless they just want to wait for him to become incapacitated or pass away or unless they seriously believe they can find a better negotiating partner in Hamas … then they need to keep working to make a deal,” he said.
Clinton said the the Palestinian leader’s refusal to accept formulas for peace was an error of “historic proportions”.
Clinton recalled a lighter moment seven years earlier just before the signing of the Oslo peace accords.
Clinton had told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that he (Rabin) would have to shake Arafat’s hand. Rabin begrudgingly agreed, saying: “All right, but no kissing.”
Clinton said he and national security adviser Tony Lake found themselves practising at being Rabin and Arafat to figure out how to keep Rabin from receiving the traditional Arab greeting of a kiss on the cheek. They eventually found a way, leading to a historic handshake at the White House.