Pressman: American Presidents and the Two-State Solution

Jeremy Pressman writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:

“Clinton, Bush, & Obama on a two-state solution”

This compilation of major Clinton, Bush (43), and Obama statements on a two-state solution including security, settlements, the West Bank, refugees, and Jerusalem suggests the similarities and differences in presidential rhetoric since President Bill Clinton publicly called for two states on January 7, 2001.

What does a careful reading of these six documents suggest?

1. These presidents all supported a two-state solution including a contiguous, viable, and sovereign Palestine. Bush and Obama explicitly noted that each state was the homeland for that people.

2. Bush emphasized a democratic Palestine.

3. In general, only Israel was said to need security. (This was often juxtaposed with ending the humiliation of the occupation and restoring Palestinian dignity.) All agreed the new borders needed to be secure for Israel. Only Obama made any reference to Palestinian security.

4. Clinton and Obama agreed the Palestinian state should be “nonmilitarized.”

5. By talking about swaps, blocks, or population centers, all three presidents seemed to agree Israel would keep some large settlements in the West Bank (large in terms of population). In May 19 speech, Obama may have used a phrasing the Palestinians prefer – the 1967 lines – but the practical significance given past negotiations is little.

6. Clinton and Bush rejected the idea that the Palestinian right of return would mean the return of refugees to Israel. Bush and Obama did not detail a comprehensive plan for addressing the Palestinian refugee question.

7. Only Clinton was clear on Jerusalem. Bush and Obama did not detail a comprehensive plan for addressing Jerusalem. In other words, only Clinton set out a U.S. position on every major Israeli-Palestinian issue.

These quotations are drawn from six sources (five speeches and one letter):

Clinton speech to Israel Policy Forum, January 7, 2001
http://usembassy-israel.org.il/publish/peace/ archives/2001/january/me0108b.html

(The Clinton speech is a less detailed version of the Clinton parameters that he privately read to the parties on December 23, 2000.)

Bush Rose Garden speech, June 24, 2002
http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/ news/releases/2002/06/20020624-3.html

Bush letter to Sharon, April 14, 2004
http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/ news/releases/2004/04/20040414-3.html

Bush opening speech at Annapolis conference, November 27, 2007
http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/ news/releases/2007/11/20071127-2.html

Obama speech in Cairo, June 4, 2009
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/ remarks-president-cairo-university-6-04-09

Obama speech on Middle East, May 19, 2011
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/19/ remarks-president-middle-east-and-north-africa

Again, the pdf compilation of presidential remarks is here.

Jeremy Pressman
Alan R. Bennett Honors Professor
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science
University of Connecticut