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Remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles and an Exchange With Reporters

September 10, 1993

The President. Ladies and gentlemen, today marks a shining moment of hope for the people of the Middle East and, indeed, of the entire world. The Israelis and the Palestinians have now agreed upon a declaration of principles on interim self-government that opens the door to a comprehensive and lasting settlement.

This declaration represents an historic and honorable compromise between two peoples who have been locked in a bloody struggle for almost a century. Too many have suffered for too long. The agreement is a bold breakthrough. The Palestinian Liberation Organization openly and unequivocally has renounced the use of violence and has pledged to live in peace with Israel. Israel, in turn, has announced its recognition of the PLO.

I want to express my congratulations and praise for the courage and the vision displayed by the Israeli and Palestinian leadership and for the crucially helpful role played by Norway.

For too long the history of the Middle East has been defined in terms of violence and bloodshed. Today marks the dawning of a new era. Now there is an opportunity to define the future of the Middle East in terms of reconciliation and coexistence and the opportunities that children growing up there will have whether they are Israeli or Palestinian.

I want to express the full support of the United States for this dramatic and promising step. For more than a quarter of a century our Nation has been directly engaged in efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict. We have done so because it reflects our finest values and our deepest interests, our interests in a stable Middle East where Israelis and Arabs can live together in harmony and develop the potential of their region, which is tremendous. From Camp David to Madrid to the signing ceremony that will take place at the White House on Monday, administration after administration has facilitated this difficult but essential quest. From my first day in office, Secretary Christopher and I have made this a priority. We are resolved to continue this process to achieve a comprehensive Arab-Israeli resolution.

In 1990, the United States suspended the U.S.-PLO dialog begun 2 years earlier following an act of terrorism committed against Israel by a faction of the PLO. Yesterday Yasser Arafat wrote to Prime Minister Rabin, committing the PLO to accept Israel's right to exist in peace and security, to renounce terrorism, to take responsibility for the actions of its constituent groups, to discipline those elements who violate these new commitments, and to nullify key elements of the Palestinian covenant that denied Israel's right to exist. These PLO commitments justify a resumption of our dialog. As a result and in light of this week's events, I have decided to resume the dialog and the contacts between the United States and the PLO.

The path ahead will not be easy. These new understandings, impressive though they are, will not erase the fears and suspicions of the past. But now the Israelis and the Palestinians have laid the foundations of hope. The United States will continue to be a full and an active partner in the negotiations that lie ahead, to ensure that this promise of progress is fully realized.

All the peoples of the Middle East deserve the blessings of peace. I pledge to join them in our help and our support to achieve that objective. I look forward to joining with Russia, our cosponsor in the Middle East peace process, and with the people of the world in witnessing the historic signing on Monday.

I also want to say I am very grateful for the overwhelming support this agreement has generated among members of both parties in the United States Congress. I especially thank leaders in the Congress from both parties who have foreign policy responsibilities who have come to meet with me this morning in the White House, many of whom have stayed on for this statement.

This is a time for bipartisan support for this agreement and, indeed, a bipartisan effort to reassert and define America's role in a very new world. We were talking today in our meeting about how this period is not unlike the late 1940's, a time in which America was the first nation to recognize Israel, in which we formed the United Nations and other international institutions in an attempt to work toward the world which everyone hoped would follow from World War II.

Once again we must develop a strong philosophy and a practical set of institutions that can permit us to follow our values and our interests and to work for a more peaceful, a more humane, and a more democratic world. This is an enormous step toward that larger goal. And I think all Americans should be grateful for the opportunity that we have been presented to help to make this historic peace work.

Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].

Q. Mr. President, does the start of the dialog with the Palestinians also mean that you will recognize the Palestinians as Israel has?

The President. Well, it means that we're going to——

Q. I mean the Palestinian entity.

The President. I understand that. We expect to work with the Palestinians and the Israelis in implementing the agreement. And we expect the dialog to produce further and clearer expressions of our policy on that.

Andrea [Andrea Mitchell, NBC News].

Q. Mr. President, are there any circumstances under which Yasser Arafat might come to the ceremony? And if not, when would you expect that he might come to the United States and might meet with you or your representatives?

The President. Well, let me say in terms of the ceremony, the people who will be here representing the United States and Israel—I mean, excuse me, the PLO and Israel—are the people that the PLO and Israel decide will come. That is entirely up to them. We are a sponsor of the peace process, and we understand that we must play a major role in trying to ensure its success. And the Secretary of State worked very hard to keep it going at difficult moments along the way in the last few months. But the thing that made it work was: They got together and agreed; they made decisions for themselves, face to face, on matters that they could never have taken an intermediary suggestion on because they were so sweeping. I think that's the system that works.

So what I have said and what I communicated personally to Prime Minister Rabin is that they should decide who is going to show up and sign, and whoever they decide will be here is fine with us, and we will welcome them.

The gentleman from Norwegian Television. I think we ought to——

Q. Mr. President, could you please elaborate on the Norwegian mediating role in this process? And then, one more question: How and when were you informed about the secret process going on in Oslo?

The President. Well, we had been aware for some time. I don't remember the exact date, but we've known for quite a while about the discussions in Norway. But frankly, we didn't want to know much of the details because the people were talking to each other.

I will say again, I think that's what made this agreement possible. If they had tried to do some of the things they had done in public, I think the constituencies of both sides would have made it virtually impossible for the agreement to be made. And I think that the world is indebted to Norway for providing a genuine opportunity for face-to-face and totally private and honest and open consultations.

It was made possible, I think, by the fact that we were able to keep the formal process going here. Many of the ideas embraced by the parties directly were ones discussed here, but which could not be agreed to in a public forum. So I think the world owes Norway a great debt of gratitude, and I think the people of the Middle East do as well.

Brit [Brit Hume, ABC News].

Q. Mr. President, you spoke of the need for a strong philosophy to guide the United States and its friends in this new atmosphere. Can you give us a sense of what some of the touchstones, some of the essence of that strong philosophy in your view should be?

The President. Well, first of all, after the end of the cold war, we know from just a cursory reading of any morning newspaper that the end of danger and misery and difficulty and oppression has far from passed from the face of the Earth. The United States still has interests and values which compel us to support peace, the absence of oppression, the recognition of human rights both on an individual and a group basis and, wherever possible, democracy. And I believe that while we must work with our friends and neighbors and allies through multilateral organizations as much as possible, the leadership of the United States is still absolutely essential to bring many of these conflicts to a successful conclusion.

That does not answer all the specific details about any particular area, but it is clear to me that for the foreseeable future, we have a unique role which we must assume, and it is very much in our interests as well as consistent with our values to do it.

Rita [Rita Braver, CBS News].

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us what you might do to discourage radical elements that might try to sabotage this agreement?

The President. Well, I think I should answer that in more affirmative terms. What we're going to try to do is to generate as much support for this agreement as possible, not just in the United States and throughout the world but also in the Middle East, within the Arab States, within the Palestinian communities, within our friends in Israel. We believe that to the extent we can show leadership and work with others who are interested in supporting this—and I want to emphasize we've gotten clear expressions of interest and support for implementing this agreement from the Europeans, from the Japanese, from Norway and the other Scandinavian countries, from the Gulf countries, from many of the Arab States—to whatever extent we can show that this can work and can lead from here to a more comprehensive resolution of the other issues still rending the Middle East, I think that will tend to undermine the ability of any specific group to derail this process.

Press Secretary Myers. One more question.

Q. Can I follow on that?

The President. Yes.

Q. Will the United States support a U.N. force in the Gaza Strip if necessary, and specifically, what will the U.S. do to help ensure the security of Israel and the Palestinian entity?

The President. Well, that has to be worked out by the parties. There will plainly be some peace guarantees. Through what mechanism it's not clear. There were some after Camp David, and I would point out that they worked very, very well. Most people are probably not even aware of the longstanding presence of American forces in a multilateral context in the Middle East in the aftermath of Camp David because it did work so well. But no specific decisions have been made. That has to be worked out with the parties, and they'll bring a proposal to us, and we'll be working with them all along the way. And you will know it as it develops. But we've not made a specific decision, and it would be inappropriate for me to speculate about it now.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:16 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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