The Personal Relations of Peace for President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Barak, First Step inMideast Progress May Be Forging a Friendship

By James N. Thurman, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Personal Relations of Peace for President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Barak, First Step inMideast Progress May Be Forging a Friendship


James N. Thurman, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Emerging from the diplomatic whirlwind of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's current trip to the United States is at least one apparent disappointment.

The Israeli leader, President Clinton has learned, does not golf.

That shortcoming aside, aides say, the two men are forging a genuine friendship that may infuse the Mideast peace process with a fresh promise not felt since 1993, when Mr. Clinton presided over a historic handshake between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and the late Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin.

Since then, US-Israeli relations have deteriorated badly - along with prospects for peace. Thus, to many analysts, creating a bond between Clinton and the newly elected Mr. Barak is as important a goal for this trip as are any of the specific issues still to be resolved.

"They are genuinely hitting it off," says a senior administration official, noting that the president quietly invited Barak into the most private parts of the White House, showing him family photos and some of the rare books he collects.

The effusive reception is intended to move US-Israeli relations to firmer ground for negotiations with Israel's Arab neighbors, as well as to give Clinton a legacy of progress toward lasting peace in the Middle East.

Last week, Barak was invited to visit Camp David, the site of the historic accords reached between Israel and Egypt during the Carter years. "This is a major symbolic gesture to have your first meeting and {then} be whisked off to Camp David," says Richard Murphy of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Barak has also met with the administration's national security team - a relationship he fostered when serving under Mr. Rabin. "Clinton seems to regard Barak as son and heir of Rabin," says Mr. Murphy.

At a White House dinner in his honor, Barak was toasted for his efforts to rejuvenate a peace process that had faded during the tenure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The relationship between American presidents and Israeli leaders, while always mindful of the larger importance, have often been tumultuous. Tensions between Clinton and Mr. Netanyahu became so severe, they were described as poisonous.

Similarly, affairs between President Bush and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir became so strained that US loan guarantees were put on hold. Many believe Mr. Shamir's relationship with Washington contributed to his political downfall. …

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