ARI FLEISCHER WAS RIGHT: In a way, his quickly-retracted blaming of Bill Clinton
for the present violence in Israel deserved more credit than it received. Not for the reasons he cited ("as a result of an attempt to push the parties beyond where they were willing to go, that it led to expectations that were raised to such a high level that it turned into violence."); Clinton did not push further than Barak was willing to go at Camp David and Taba. Rather, the conduct of the peace process through 2000 was, in retrospect, perfectly designed to encourage Palestinian maximalism, and Clinton deserves some of the blame for it.
After Arafat signed the Oslo accords, all of the giving was on the Israeli side; at no time before Camp David in 2000 were the Palestinians called upon to give anything other than promises of non-violence (which were duly broken when convenient). For those who argue that the recognition of Israel's right to exist was an appropriate compromise, I would refer to P.J. O'Rourke's line from Parliament of Whores
about how being bitten in half by a shark is a compromise with being swallowed whole.
At every interim juncture, whenever the Palestinians raised a violent stink, Israel was pressured to keep the peace process moving along by making compromises. Binaymin Netanyahu attempted to change the paradigm, and was treated as a virtual pariah by the U.S. and the rest of the world for doing so. (Incidentally, those who point to U.S. support for Israel as being the key factor as to why the Arab world hates us skip over the fact that in 1998, when the U.S. forced Netanyahu into the Wye accords at diplomatic gunpoint, the U.S.' standing in the Arab world did not dramatically increase, and the attack on our embassies in Africa took place around that time.)
The result was, as Michael Kelly put it,
that a "particularly dangerous delusion [was] held by a surprising number of people in the Middle East... that Israel will one day be forced to its knees -- and that America will let that happen."
When the Camp David proposals came in under the maximum Palestinian demands, it was in keeping with the history of the "peace process" that the Palestinians would start violence in an attempt to force the Israelis to sweeten the pot or surrender. Even The Economist, for whom Israel is always wrong as a matter of first principles, recognized that
"the violence is not one-sided. It has, in point of fact, been initiated by the Palestinians ... to drive Israel from the territories by force."
The pattern of the peace process set the stage for the violence that began in October 2000, and Bill Clinton bears some responsibility for it.
P.S. The question that provoked Fleicher's response, as described in the NY Times,
was even more inaccurate than his response. The questioner supposedly asked "Mr. Fleischer if he agreed that Middle East violence in the last months of the Clinton administration had been quelled when both Israelis and Palestinians were at the negotiating table, and if it had not increased during the Bush administration, when the United States has not been deeply involved in peace talks."
The violence may be worse now, but any suggestion that "Middle East violence in the last months of the Clinton administration had been quelled when both Israelis and Palestinians were at the negotiating table" is an ambitious piece of revisionist history. The Taba talks - the closest the two sides have come to a final agreement - was among the most surreal events in diplomatic history, as attacks on Israelis were continuing apace and Barak was negotiating knowing he had no chance of being returned to office in the next month's elections. And the questioner's assumption that the increase in violence is due to a lack of American involvement is equally fallacious, but this post is already too long.