Signed by 81 (out of 100) Senators, April 5, 1998
The Honorable William J. Clinton
Executive Office of the President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20505
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing about the Middle East peace process, and the published reports of a disagreement
between our Administration and the Israeli government that may lead to the United States
publicly presenting a peace proposal which is known to be unacceptable to Israel.
We hope these reports are not true.
At the heart of the Oslo peace process is a central understanding, a core bargain: land for
peace. Israel cedes land and political authority to the Palestinians in exchange for which
the Palestinians provide peace
and security to Israel by rescinding their stated intention to destroy Israel, and vowing to
fight those who continue to perpetuate acts of terror and violence against Israel.
This bargain was inherently more difficult for Israel since land is easier to give but harder to
withdraw, and peace is harder to give but easier to withdraw. In fact, since the Oslo process
began, Israel has yielded virtually all of the Gaza Strip and 27% of the West Bank—where
98% of the Palestinians live—to the Palestinian Authority for civil administration.
During the same period of time the Palestinian intifada has ended and cooperative contacts
between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have increased, but the fact is that many
Palestinians continue to use terror and violence as a political tool against Israel. Chairman Arafat,
himself, repeatedly threatens renewal of widespread violence and continues to withhold
full security cooperation with Israel.
Since Israel’s withdrawal from Hebron in fulfillment of its Oslo promise last year, there has
been no progress in the peace process. We share your Administration’s frustration with this
lack of movement, but believe it would be a serious mistake for the United States to change
from its traditional role as facilitator of the peace process to using public pressure against
Israel. This would be particularly unfair and counterproductive since Israel has kept the promises
it made at Oslo, and today is prepared to withdraw from even more territory of the West Bank
before final status negotiations, territory that is qualitatively important to the Palestinians’
desire for self-governance.
On the other hand, the Palestinians have not provided Israel with adequate security and Chairman
Arafat has refused to conclude negotiations for the remaining interim status issues,
even though Israel’s current offers move the Palestinian people significantly forward
in their quest for self-governance. Chairman Arafat may hope that American frustration
with the pace of the process will lead to an American decision to force even more from
Israel. Instead, the United States should quietly urge the Palestinians to accept Israel’s
latest offer and move to final status negotiations.
America’s commitment to Israel’s security undergirds the entire peace process and provides
Israel the confidence it needs to take very real risks for peace. As you know, Secretary
Christopher made a written commitment that it would be up to Israel to decide the size and
scope of further redeployments of Israeli forces on the West Bank. Presenting an American
plan—especially one that includes a specific redeployment figure beyond what Israel
believes to be in its national security interest before final status arrangements—runs
counter to Secretary Christopher’s commitment and can only undermine Israel’s confidence.
American Middle East diplomacy, as you know and have shown so well, has always worked
best when pursued quietly and in concert with Israel. We strongly urge you to continue
our critical role as facilitator of a process that can ultimately succeed only through the
direct negotiations by the parties themselves.
Joseph I. Lieberman