Bill Clinton, whose term ends tomorrow, has been endlessly described as Israel's best friend ever in the White House — often by himself. He relishes telling Jewish groups of his dying pastor's final advice: Never do anything to endanger Israel.
He clearly has none of the WASP problem connecting with Jews that his Bush predecessor and successor appear to suffer. (Of course, there are few people of any kind to which the famous Clinton empathy does not extend.)
He has surrounded himself with Jewish advisers and friends, most allied with Peace Now and Israeli politics' extreme left wing. That group's affinity for Mr. Clinton was fully evident after his recent Middle East valedictory before the Israel Policy Forum; he was besieged by squealing autograph-seekers and middle-aged matrons eager to pinch their favorite boychik's cheeks.
If Mr. Clinton has been Israel's best friend, however, it is not clear that Israel has been better served by the relationship than Bill's other special friends over the years.
Certainly if asked, "Do you feel more or less secure about the future than eight years ago?" most Israelis would answer in the negative. Nearly three-quarters of Israel's Jews tell pollsters that the Oslo Process, of which Mr. Clinton was a tireless promoter, can never lead to peace. In October, nearly 70 percent expressed fear about the future existence of the country.
Obviously Mr. Clinton does not bear exclusive or even primary blame for the Oslo process. The internal weaknesses of Israeli society and messianic delusions gave rise to Oslo. But the United States under Mr. Clinton's watch has pressured Israel into endless concessions for seven years without receiving the one thing that could have possibly justified the process: Yasser Arafat's willingness to educate his people for peaceful co-existence and to prepare them for the realization that they, too, must compromise maximalist demands.
When Binyamin Netanyahu attempted to insist on reciprocity and fulfillment of Palestinian commitments, the United States did not hesitate to portray him as an obstacle to peace. Mr. Clinton and his henchman, Martin Indyk, involved the United States in Israel's internal politics to an unprecedented degree, openly pushing for a Barak victory over Mr. Netanyahu in 1999, dispatching the president's closest political advisers to bring it about.
Once Ehud Barak was safely ensconced as prime minister, Mr. Clinton used all the powers of a practiced roue to get Mr. Barak to do his bidding. He knew all the latter's psychological vulnerabilities — above all the need for approbation from the world's only superpower. Mr. Barak's sole foreign policy aim from the outset has been American favor. To encourage him, Mr. Clinton has filled his head with promises of American largesse that no American Congress would have ever passed.
The hope of an upgraded strategic relationship has been repeatedly dangled before Mr. Barak's eyes — first in return for a full withdrawal from the Golan and lately for breathtaking concessions to the Palestinians. The upgrade never happened. Indeed it has never been farther away.
Ever since the Palestinians declared war in October, the United States has become increasingly evenhanded: every Israeli use of force, even pinpointed attacks on those who employ murderous bombs that kill and maim schoolchildren and their teachers, has been labeled excessive. The United States did not veto the U.N. Security Council condemnation of Israel; two weeks ago Mr. Arafat was credited with having said yes to the Clinton blueprint for peace as Palestinian negotiators rejected every single provision.
Mr. Barak has been utterly oblivious to the lesson of Munich: Small countries that give away territory at the behest of superpowers in the hope of securing that superpower's protection, do so at their own peril. Superpowers have their own interests; protecting the remaining territory of those they have coaxed into painful concessions rarely tops the list. America today is far more concerned with avoiding Arab terrorism and maintaining low oil prices than with Israel's security.
As military Chief of Staff Gen. Shaul Mofaz told the Knesset Foreign Relations Committee last week, the Clinton plan renders Israel far more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, threatens dozens of Jerusalem neighborhoods to become like Gilo (shot at regularly) and, by giving up Israeli presence in the sparsely populated Jordan Valley, destabilizes Jordan, threatening Israel with another irredentist Arab state to the East.
To the Israel Policy Forum, President Clinton spoke of the tough decisions confronting Israel. His profound message: You have to take chances in life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. All very well, if your principal goal is a Nobel Peace Prize, which can be safely pocketed before all hell breaks loose. But just a trifle cavalier when looked at from the point of view of a nation whose very existence is being placed in doubt. Somehow I don't think that's what Bill's pastor had in mind.