Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bill Clinton's Opportunity in the Middle East

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bill Clinton's Opportunity in the Middle East

Article excerpt

THE last time a sitting United States president was defeated by the opposition party was in 1980. Then, as now, the administration was deeply involved in Middle East negotiations that had been going on for more than a year and showed great promise.

Twelve years ago during that earlier transition, the talks were about Palestinian autonomy. They represented the next stage after the Camp David peace agreements. Harold Saunders, who was then assistant secretary of state for the Near East, recalls that the incoming Reagan administration made a deliberate decision to put the talks on the "back-burner." In the months that followed, without strong US leadership, the peace process gradually collapsed.

Understandably, any new administration wants to establish an identity separate from that of its predecessor. While Camp David was a huge success, it had been Jimmy Carter's personal triumph. For their own reasons, the Reaganites simply did not place a high priority on continuing the process started by Mr. Carter. An unfortunate result, however, was that much of the progress that had been made in the talks was lost. Ironically, US diplomats today would be overjoyed if the Israeli side would agree to some of the provisions with which it concurred in that earlier round.

President-elect Clinton obviously does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, and he has an interest in demonstrating his statesmanlike qualities. Thus, a wise move for him at this point would be to actively embrace the peace process started by the Bush administration. He has already stated the need to keep the process "on track."

It is important for Mr. Clinton to move quickly. Arab-Israeli negotiations are at a crucial juncture. Yitzhak Rabin won the Israeli election in June with a platform of reaching agreement on Palestinian autonomy within six to nine months. Prime Minister Rabin needs to show results if he is to assure a majority of Israelis that they can live securely with the accommodations that will have to be made. On the other side, Arab governments and the Palestinian leadership have put themselves at risk by agreeing to direct negotiations with Israel. …

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