[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book II)]
[November 5, 1995]
[Pages 1721-1722]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Exchange With Reporters Aboard Air Force One
November 5, 1995

Middle East Peace Process

    Q. This is quite a President gathering, Mr. President, your thoughts 
as the flight of this----
    President Clinton. We're all going to pay our respects to Prime 
Minister Rabin. We all knew him. And we're going to express our support 
for Israel and for the peace process.
    Q. President Carter said the other day when he was being interviewed 
that he thought, given the circumstances, there logically enough would 
be a pause, not a pause in peacemaking but a reflective pause, and then, 
of course, the process should gather again. How quickly do you think the 
Israelis can pull themselves together?
    President Clinton. I don't have any idea. We don't know yet. We are 
going to have meetings when we're there. We're going to visit and then 
maybe we'll have some more--some better thoughts for you then.
    Q. Mr. President, collectively when you look at the manifest of this 
trip, what message does it send to the Israelis, Middle East, and the 
entire world for that matter?
    President Clinton. Well, I think it should send, first of all, the 
message that the United States still stands as a genuine friend and a 
partner to the people of Israel, Republicans and Democrats alike. We 
have decades of dedication to the cause of peace here, from the work 
President Carter did with the Camp David accords to the work President 
Bush did in starting this process that has been consummated in the last 
couple of years, the Secretaries of State that are here, the leaders of 
both parties in the Congress. The United States is standing with Israel 
and standing for the cause of peace. And we're standing strong and deep.
    Q. President Bush, what goes through your mind, sir, as you consider 
all the familiar faces on this trip and the message that it may be 
sending to the rest of the world?
    President Bush. Well, of course, I'm very grateful to President 
Clinton for personally inviting me. Barbara and I felt close to Prime 
Minister Rabin, as do the others here, very close to him. I remember 
when he visited us in our home up in Maine and all of that.

[[Page 1722]]

    And so I would simply leave the policy to President Clinton but 
simply say I'm sure it will be a very emotional event, and I hope that 
it conveys that the Republicans, Democrats, whatever, are together in 
the support of Israel and clearly in support of the peace process. And 
that's all I think we can expect from this.
    Q. The Syrian track seems awfully tough, even before this. Various 
approaches have been tried; President Carter actually mediated 16 tough 
days. You've talked to us on it. Do you have some new tactic? I don't 
know how many ways there are to go about it, but have you thought of 
some way to break this stalemate that might work?
    President Clinton. I think I should defer all substantive 
conversations about this until after the funeral and after the meetings. 
Then I will--on the way back perhaps I'll have something more to say 
about it. But I think it would be inappropriate--this is a time of 
national mourning for the people of Israel and a time when all of us who 
knew Prime Minister Rabin feel a great sense of loss and an enormous 
sense of respect, even awe, for what he did and for the sacrifice he 
paid. I'd like for us to take the time to properly honor that, and then 
on the way back perhaps something will emerge from our meetings which 
will be useful for me to comment on.
    Q. Will you be seeing Mr. Netanyahu, or can you give us an idea of 
who you will see?
    Press Secretary Mike McCurry. We'll do that for all of you here.
    President Clinton. Mike has that.
    Q. President Carter, we haven't heard from you. What are your 
thoughts about the message that should be sent by this delegation that 
includes people who were in your administration--yourself of course?
    President Carter. Well, I've known Prime Minister Rabin for 24 years 
and admired him personally and as a great leader. I'm honored to be 
invited by President Clinton to participate. I think it was a very wise 
thing on the part of the President to put together this tremendously 
impressive delegation because in this time of sorrow and grief and 
uncertainty, I think it is very important to every Israeli to know the 
United States stands beside us with full support.
    I wasn't insinuating that the peace process should be delayed, but 
the comment I made was that the Israelis would have to make this 
decision, and for a few days at least we shouldn't be pushing them on an 
exact schedule for the peace process.
    But I think it's important, too, for the Israelis to not only know 
that we are supportive of Israel but also supportive of the peace 
process. And our coming, I think, is closely related to that.
    So I hope that President Clinton's ideas for this mission, burdened 
as we are with sadness and the personal loss, will be productive for 
Israel and for the peace process.
    Q. People have said that one of the causes of this is the 
polarization that has occurred in Israel because of the peace process 
and the very vigorous opposition to it. Is there any lesson for us in 
the United States with what happened yesterday?
    President Clinton. Well, of course we've dealt with some 
polarization of our own. And I think the lesson is that in a free and 
vital society, you want the widest range of freedom of speech. But words 
can have consequences; people can be driven to extremes. And our society 
only works when--any democracy only works when freedom is handled 
responsibly. And I think that's the lesson here.
    The Israelis have been through all these wars, all this tension for 
all these decades and never had a political assassination before. And I 
hope, I hope, it will never happen again. I admire their flourishing 
democracy; I like the big and raucous arguments they have. But they 
should do it respecting one another's innate patriotism and dignity and 
fundamental right to participate. We've got to keep this thing within 
proper bounds.
    But you know, that's something we all have to work on; all 
democracies have to work on that. Israel doesn't--that's not just a 
comment about Israel. I'm sure they'll have the time to reflect on all 
of that. And they are a very great people, a very great democracy, and 
I'm sure they'll work it out.

Note: The exchange began at 6:05 p.m. aboard Air Force One en route to 
Tel Aviv, Israel. Former Presidents George Bush and Jimmy Carter were 
members of the U.S. delegation attending Prime Minister Rabin's funeral. 
A reporter referred to Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu.