Exchange With Reporters Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, how dangerous is the standoff between Israel and the Palestinians?
President Clinton. Well, I think it's very important to get this peace process back on track. The Prime Minister is coming here at a very good time. As you know, he saw King Hussein the other day; I did, too. And I want to have this chance to spend an hour with him to discuss what we can do to get it going again.
Q. Mr. President, will you be amenable to hosting a peace conference at Camp David, as the Prime Minister has suggested?
President Clinton. Well, I think it's important not to jump the gun on that. The first thing we have to do is get the process going again. There is a preexisting process. There are a whole lot of agreements. And the Prime Minister has got some ideas about what we can do to get the substance working.
Obviously, I've been heavily involved in this from the day I became President. I continue to be heavily involved, and I wouldn't rule out any reasonable opportunity for me to make a positive contribution. But we have to have the conditions and the understandings necessary to go forward. That's the most important thing, is to get the thing going again.
Q. Mr. President, are the Palestinians entitled to a concession in order to make a statement against terrorism, the kind of zero-tolerance statement you want? Does Israel have to trade something for that, or is that just an obligation under the Oslo agreement?
President Clinton. I think under the Oslo agreement and under any sense of human rights and human decency, we ought to have zero tolerance for terrorism.
Q. Mr. Prime Minister, how was your visit with King Hussein?
Prime Minister Netanyahu. It was very good. I wanted very much to see him. He had paid a visit to Israel under very difficult times and, I think, expressed his humanity and his concern for peace, and I wanted to come there. And I wanted very much to come here as well. It's always, for me, a pleasure to meet President Clinton. He is the world leader, who is also taking tremendous efforts and tremendous pains to assist us in the quest for peace with security. I think both of us see eye to eye on the need to fight terrorism, and we'll explore these and other subjects, I'm sure.
Q. Mr. President, you've said that your role is to support Israel as it takes risks for peace. Has the time come to exert more influence or pressure, as some would say, to get certain concessions from Israel?
President Clinton. I think the important thing is to create the environment in which the steps can be taken which will make peace possible. And one precondition of that, obviously, is the absence of terrorism; the other is the presence of a certain confidence on the part of both sides that peace is possible. And I think that I will do whatever I think is most appropriate to achieve that. But you all need to let us go to work here and try to get something done.
Q. Thank you.
[At this point, one group of reporters left the room, and another group entered.]
Q. The Prime Minister said this morning that Israel will not pay with concessions for the right of not being terrorized. Just how badly concessions and gestures are needed now, or maybe the best one is a unity government in Israel to ignite and restart the peace process again?
President Clinton. Well, of course, the form of government in Israel is for the people of Israel to determine and, in this case, for the leaders of Israel to determine, not for me.
I agree that freedom from terrorism is something which no one should have to purchase. I think it should be—it's a precondition. We have to have a secure environment, and terrorism is wrong. Having said that, I think then the question is, how do we actually have an honorable negotiating process which will lead to a peace that the parties can fully and, indeed, wholeheartedly embrace? And that will require constructive steps. That's what we want to talk about today.
But it shouldn't be ever seen as a bargain to be free from terrorism. No one should have to bargain to be free from terrorism. But we do need to continue the peace process in an honorable way that will bring it to an honorable conclusion.
Q. Mr. President, what would be your position on the idea of having some sort of a Camp Clinton for the Middle East?
President Clinton. Well, I think the important thing, if I might, is to get the process going again and to have some idea in the minds of all of us who are part of it about where we're going, an agreed-upon destination, and then to reestablish the confidence necessary for the parties to go forward. I think it's premature for us to commit to that until we can get this thing back on track again.
I've been very active in this from the day I became President and deeply, personally committed to it and will remain so. So I wouldn't rule out anything. But I think it's important that we not put form over substance here. We need to know where we're going, and that's— I need to talk to the Prime Minister about that.
Q. Mr. President, are you going to ask the Prime Minister to stop or to freeze the building in Har Homa near Jerusalem?
President Clinton. I'm going to have a conversation with the Prime Minister, if I can end the press conference. That's what I want to do.
NOTE: The exchange began at 12:05 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, the President referred to King Hussein I of Jordan. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this exchange.
William J. Clinton, Exchange With Reporters Prior to Discussions With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/223676