Bill Clinton for the Middle East peace process

Savir's Corner: Bill Clinton has the necessary character and capacities to implement a proactive American Middle East policy, under President Obama as of 2013, if indeed he is reelected.

Bill Clinton and US President Barack Obama at fundraiser 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Bill Clinton and US President Barack Obama at fundraiser 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Barack Obama will most likely be reelected to a second term in the Oval Office. If so, one of the dramatic turning points in the election campaign will be considered the rousing and brilliant endorsement speech by former president Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention in Charlotte.
The speech was a powerful advocacy for Obama, not just because Clinton is a great orator, but because of an underlying sense left by the speech that there is a continuum between the two Democratic presidents, a similarity of values, and complimentarily capabilities. Clinton clearly acknowledged the leadership of President Obama; Obama recognized the popularity of his Democratic predecessor in American public opinion, among Democrats and Independents.
Between these two exceptional gentlemen there are many similarities and differences.
Both are a product of the American dream – a southerner from Little Rock, Arkansas, graduate of the best universities, Oxford and Yale, propelled from the governor’s office to the White House; and an African-American, born to a poor family in Hawaii, graduate of Harvard, propelled from the Senate seat in Illinois to the White House. Both representing a big new hope for Americans and America; both married to strong women, in time not less popular than they themselves; both with an open-minded view of the American role as a global peacemaker; both great orators, with a fresh charm; both skillful at engaging in the brutality of the political game; and both great optimists: “Yes we can!” or “Change for the people!”
There are also important differences – Obama is more of a liberal, never hesitant to advance his domestic agenda – from same sex marriage to human and civil rights, in alliance with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Clinton is a southern liberal, which makes him more of a centrist, crossing the isle to coalitions with the Republicans in Congress.
On the international front, Obama is clearly more of a multilateralist, a coalition builder, who has not given up hope in the United Nations – opposing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, respecting multiculturalism – a policy of principles and coalitions. Bill Clinton is more of an internationalist, a great believer in the leading role of the American superpower in the world, with an in-depth understanding of the world scene; never hesitant to get involved personally in conflict resolution, be it in former Yugoslavia, Ireland or the Middle East.
Hence, there is a great complimentary relationship between Obama, with his domestic democratic agenda and international coalition building, and Clinton, the domestic coalition-builder and the international interventionist for peace.
Bill Clinton’s forte is in the global scene. As Hillary Clinton will no longer be secretary of state, and may be succeeded by John Kerry, we still could see an Obama-Clinton tandem on foreign affairs in the second Obama term. This comes at a time when the United States’ international clout is challenged by the growing power of China and Russia, and even more by the Muslim post- Arab Spring world, where the Arab and Muslim constituency is hostile to America, with growing Islamic tendencies, and with Iran in the background – a danger to Middle East and world peace.
President Obama would be well advised to make important use of Bill Clinton’s unique skills, not just in order to get reelected, but also in his second term as the leader of the free world – Clinton would be the right man at the right time, at the right hand of the president, in becoming the next Middle East peace man for the American administration.
Our region is in dramatic transition, and in the years to come will determine its own future and nature of governance. The time of cooperation with pro- Western dictators a la Mubarak is over. The young have taken over the city squares, and from there they will legitimize any future process, nationally and regionally. Out of the growing frustration with poverty and unemployment, vehemently opposed to the old guard, they cling to their Islamic cultural heritage and wait to see if the relatively moderate Islamic parties will deliver in the economic sphere, This is a lengthy and unstable process, with Cairo and Tahrir in the midst, with a possible transition in Syria, and with a slow process of change among the monarchic regimes.
The Arab youth, while wanting to belong to a globalized world, are suspicious and estranged from America, which they see as a hostile Western dominating power, a staunch ally of Israel, reluctant to resolve the Palestinian issue. In the background are the fundamentalist clerics of Teheran, with their nuclear ambitions and their allies – Hezbollah and Hamas – exporting terror and ideology and endangering the stability of the region.
The challenge before the American administration will be how to create a viable Middle Eastern architecture with relative openness of societies, developing economies and aspiring peaceful coexistence – at the cost of fundamentalist Iran. This demands a new pro-active American policy in Obama’s second term, and Bill Clinton seems the best-suited person to implement a new American diplomatic intervention.
Bill Clinton has a proven record in Middle East peace efforts. I was fortunate in the mid-Nineties to work with him and his administration, and I witnessed first hand that he has proven exceptional qualifications:
• The political ability to build common bilateral and regional structures of compatible self-interests, be it in the Palestinian, Jordanian, Syrian or multilateral tracks.
• A mixture of a value-based world view, of human and humanitarian rights, with almost a Machiavellian capacity to maneuver in the quagmire of the Byzantine-like Middle East policies.
• The personal qualities to create relationships of mutual trust. Clinton has succeeded in creating an exceptional degree of trust in the region with the highest degree of paranoia per square mile, by the most suspicious of leaders such as Assad, Arafat, Hussein and Rabin.
Under the reelected President Obama, Clinton could put his foreign policy statesmen qualities to work in our region, at a most critical time, in favor of America’s strategic interest, in relation to the following elements:
• A fundamental change in the American image in the region: Obama has made efforts of rapprochement to the Islamic world, as in his Cairo University speech in 2009. But this predicament goes far deeper than just addressing an image problem, and needs full-time attention. The Islamic world, with both its fundamentalist and more moderate traditional tendencies, blames the West for the lack of progress and lack of legitimacy of the Islamic and Arab states. The United States is blamed for cultural colonialism; for extreme promiscuous secularism; for economic domination; and for allying with Israeli occupation policies.
On many counts the Arabs are probably wrong and don’t act in their own self interest. But now that the vox populi is more powerful, and American flags are burned and embassies stormed in demonstrations, this is a fact of Middle East life that the new administration needs to tackle. An intense and open dialogue is needed in traditional and new media with the Arab masses, and mainly the Arab youth (who constitute 60 percent of the population).
Clinton is capable of accomplishing this, with empathy, without apology and with the necessary persistence.
• The United States needs to distinguish between the relatively moderate pro-peace regimes in the region and the fundamentalist Shi’ite headquarters in Teheran, Beirut and Gaza. In this context, two countries are critical in the Islamic world – Egypt and Turkey – both with strong religious tendencies, but both also heavily dependent on American economic aid. Mohamed Morsy and Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be brought into a flexible American alliance in the region, as both countries’ interests clash with Iran. There is need for Clintonian creative diplomacy.
• A key to regional progress is a sustainable effort, led by the United States, in favor of a two state solution between Israel and Palestine, along the lines of the original Clinton Plan and the Obama vision. He must convince our government to give up its settlement policy in return for an enhanced security defense relationship with the United States, and convince the Palestinians to give up on the right of return, in return for assistance in the building of a modern democratic Palestinian state. Such a process touches at the very core interest of Israel and the Palestinians, and will make the rapprochement to the Arab world easier.
• Regional economic development: Clinton is known for his famous quote during the 1992 election campaign – “It’s the economy, stupid....” In our region, it’s not only the economy, as psychology, religion, and security play important roles, but the economy is what most people will look to in an American-sponsored peace process – to get out of poverty, to belong to the world market, to acquire education and skills, and to find jobs. A regional economic structure must be put in place.
Bill Clinton has the necessary character and capacities to implement a proactive American Middle East policy, under President Obama as of 2013, if indeed he is reelected, something with which Clinton is trying to assist. The two would be a powerful combination,for the all-too-important strategic interests of the United States, in a more volatile than ever Middle East.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.