Israel Resource Review 15th December, 2000


"Meddler for Hire": Will Clinton Remain a Middle East negotiator after Jan. 20th
Seth Lipsky, Contributing Editor,Wall Street Journal
Ira Stoll, Editor,

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright startled some of her interlocutors when, in her conference call with Jewish leaders last week, she mentioned in passing that Europeans and Russians were wondering what role Bill Clinton might play in the Middle East peace process after he leaves office Jan. 20. It turns out the comment might not have been entirely idle, though this drama may take some time to play out. Therein lies concern for President-elect Bush.

In recent weeks a quiet effort has been under way by S. Daniel Abraham, a billionaire active in private Middle East diplomacy, to set Mr. Clinton up at the head of a center for peace based in New York. Mr. Abraham was considering acquiring a luxurious building for the center in Manhattan. They were even thinking of naming the thing the Clinton Center for Peace. The idea was to give the former president a big budget, a ritzy apartment on the premises -- and a license to meddle in the Middle East. The goal was to see about continuing privately the official efforts the Constitution will shortly bring to an end.

Late yesterday, Mr. Abraham emerged from the White House having failed to reach an agreement with Mr. Clinton, and the deal appears to be dead, at least for now. But that the talks were even taking place says a lot about the state of mind of the administration and its allies as they contemplate the prospect of going out of power without having forged an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs.

Mr. Abraham, a combat veteran of World War II who made his billions with the Slim Fast diet products, has operated in the Middle East for some time. An early backer of Ariel Sharon, he has moved in a different direction and lately has been operating through something called the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. He has surrounded himself with some of the most left-wing advocates of appeasement on the Middle East scene. The most charitable view of his activities would be that he is, to borrow a line from Alfred Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent," a "well-meaning amateur."

He has made some serious missteps. One occurred in October 1997, when President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore held a a small dinner at the White House for Ezer Weizman, then president of Israel. At the table were leaders of the American Jewish community. Next to Secretary Albright sat Mr. Abraham, who is one of the biggest financial contributors to the Democratic Party. At one point, Mr. Abraham asked, "Look, does anyone here really think that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu wants peace?"

The dinner became famous -- or infamous -- after the Jewish Forward newspaper reported that the guests sat with their chins in their soup until Mr. Weizman, a political foe of Mr. Netanyahu, spoke up. Yes, he felt it should be said, Mr. Netanyahu does want peace. Mr. Clinton finally chimed in to say he agreed. But the moment gave outsiders a glimpse of the degree to which the left was prepared to attack the personal bona fides of a sitting prime minister of Israel behind his back in the intimacy of a White House setting.

Another incident concerned the president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. This past March 31, Mr. Abraham hosted an elaborate luncheon for Mr. Saleh at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The invitation to the event, signed by Mr. Abraham, described the occasion as "festive," "honoring" the Yemeni president for taking a leading role in "the democratization of his country" and for "actively supporting a comprehensive regional peace." The problem was that Mr. Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978, has racked up a record of human-rights violations and anti-Israel rhetoric second to few.

At the event, a questioner pressed the tyrant on whether Yemen would begin allowing Israelis to travel there. A long pause ensued as Mr. Saleh conferred with his foreign minister. Mr. Abraham got up and announced the answer was yes. He was promptly contradicted by the Yemen president himself, who said that his country would recognize no Israeli passports. This led several of the Jewish leaders present to walk out. Mr. Saleh has been back in the news lately, obstructing the investigation into the bombing of the USS Cole, a bombing that Mr. Saleh initially insisted must have been an accident caused by the U.S.

During his second term, Mr. Clinton permitted Ms. Albright to undermine Mr. Netanyahu to the point that he was vulnerable politically at home. Mr. Clinton's political operatives -- James Carville, Robert Shrum and Stanley Greenberg -- went to Israel to engineer the Labor Party's campaign for Ehud Barak, who had, since retiring as Israel's military chief of staff, been serving on the advisory board of Mr. Abraham's Middle East peace center. Once elected prime minister, Mr. Barak abandoned his campaign pledges and treated with the Palestinian Arabs with an eye to dividing Jerusalem.

Not surprisingly, his government lost the confidence of the Knesset, and new elections are in the offing, much earlier than required. One of the issues -- if Mr. Sharon has his way -- will be the way recent Israeli prime ministers have permitted themselves to be manipulated by Washington. It's an issue for Israel's voters, and the behavior of the American leadership is also an issue for many of us here, including Mr. Bush.

When The Wall Street Journal called the White House last week to ask about the negotiations with Mr. Abraham, a spokesman would not comment on the specifics but noted the president had been making preparations for what the spokesman called his "postpresidency." Though Mr. Abraham's deal with Mr. Clinton collapsed at the White House yesterday, a scenario may yet emerge in which Mr. Clinton uses his "postpresidency" to pursue a Mideast deal with backing from private parties.

What Mr. Bush must remember is that he can learn from his predecessors' failures. Israel's former permanent representative at the United Nations, Dore Gold, argues that Mr. Barak was "forced to agree to new elections" precisely because "his policies, which were supported by the Clinton administration, were bankrupt." The Americans, he says, "should never have gotten drawn into this kind of micromanagement of Israel's internal and diplomatic affairs."

Mr. Bush has signaled an instinct to avoid micromanagement of the affairs of foreign friends. If he becomes president he may be confronted with a private opposition that doesn't share this view and is operating in the international arena with big financial backing. It may soon be time to apply that hoariest of little-used laws, the Logan Act, which was passed not long after America was formed:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 5, 2000

Return to Contents

Official Palestinian Authority Voice of Palestine Radio Broadcast - Dec. 15

Summary and Analysis

VOP is broadcasting mixed and confusing message regarding talks with Israel, suggesting that the Palestinian Authority may be going through a bit of an identity crisis or in some kind of split personality-or just deep internal differences over strategy and tactics.

For several hours yesterday, December 14, it totally ignored Israeli reports of a high-level meeting between PA President Yasser Arafat and Israeli negotiators Gilad Sher and Police Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

Only on its midnight news round-up, did VOP finally mention the meeting, leading its news line-up with the item on the summit, which was covered tersely. But the item was dropped entirely from the first Friday morning news show at 8 am, and was added as the last item in 9 am news. (see headlines below)

Later it was mentioned in the context of remarks by Yasser Abd Rabbo, who said he expected a continuation of the talks but also a continuation and even intensification of the Intifada

For several days VOP has featured PA Speaker Ahmad Qreia-Abu Ala-in its prime time interviews, offering the view that there will be no talks with Israel, certainly not unless and until Israel executes past agreements: freeing prisoners and withdrawing from key Jerusalem neighborhoods. Beginning on December 12, VOP also began offering the views of PLO Executive Secretary Mahmoud Abbas-Abu Mazen-offering a slightly less hard-line approach: that there were some low-level contacts.

Today, VOP featured PA Information Minister Yasser Abd-Rabbo saying that there would be contacts but that the Intifada would continue until Palestinian demands are met and that indeed they would step up confrontations. Similarly, in the mosque speech featured on the 12-noon news, the mosque speaker reiterated that the Palestinians would not stop their intifada and he called forth a vision of the end of the State of Israel.

Morning Headlines 8 a.m.

  • "The martyring of the youth Muhammad Hamtash, 28 years old, from Baqat al-Hashab in the Ramallah prefecture, a member of the security forces who was shot in the chest…;
  • Masses of our people in Khan Yunis will accompany the funeral of Hani Abu Bakr in the afternoon, and he was martyred in a crime executed by Israeli occupation forces when they opened fire for no reason on a car going down the highway…and five others were injured,4 of them seriously;
  • Occupation forces are preventing those under the age of 45 from praying at the Juma'a (Friday assembly) prayers in Al Aqsa…;
  • President Yasser Arafat has sent a congratulatory message to American President-elect George Bush Junior….saying that the Palestinians clung to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace based on international legitimacy;
  • Economic Cooperation Minister Dr, Nabil Sha'ath characterized President Arafat's meeting with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine as very important, emphasizing the important role to played by the European Community in the peace process;
  • Former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he would not run for the post of prime minister unless the Knesset itself also ran for election at the same time."

Return to Contents

Go to the Israel Resource Review homepage

The Israel Resource Review is brought to you by the Israel Resource, a media firm based at the Bet Agron Press Center in Jerusalem, and the Gaza Media Center under the juristdiction of the Palestine Authority.
You can contact us on