Bill Clinton Attacks GOP, Pushes Mideast Peace

Former U.S. President William J. Clinton pauses before addressing a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. Focus shifts on Thursday to the future of the euro and the issue of climate change. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
AP Photo
DAVOS, Switzerland - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton criticized the Republicans for their small-government policies Thursday, saying America has to stop "conducting its public policy as if it was in a parallel universe divorced from reality."

He also urged Israel to make peace with the Arabs, saying the Jewish state will never have a better partner that the current Palestinian leadership.

Clinton spoke for an hour before an adoring audience of global leaders from business, government and academia, who interrupted his words several times with applause - never more loudly than when he said Israel should seize what he described as the chance for comprehensive peace with the Arab world.

"If I were in Israel and I had any influence, I'd want to make that deal now," he said. Referring to a comprehensive peace offer mooted by the Arab League in 2002, he said: "All these countries have offered Israel a political, economic and security partnership, not just peace, not just normalization ... but a genuine partnership." In Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Clinton said, "they've got the best partner in the West Bank that they've ever had."

"All these things should make peace more likely... Can anyone imagine the Middle East or in particular the Israelis and Palestinians, will be better off if we do not do this now?"

The sides seemed tantalizingly close to a deal in Clinton's last days as president, when he mediated actively in 2000 and 2001, but talks fell apart and the sides went through some four years of deadly violence.

Various efforts since then have failed.

Clinton said he believes the public on both sides would support an agreement, and he professed to be "struck how ... political systems continually produce governments" that go against what "all public opinion polls show would be popular."

Clinton noted that the Arab world was currently in some turmoil, after the revolution in Tunisia and given the anti-government rioting in Egypt.

"It is a manifestation of the yearning for change and accountability and shared progress moving throughout the world, particularly throughout the Middle East and North Africa ... to be part of a modern world that works," he said. This, too, should "animate the parties to make a peace agreement" that could yield economic benefits for all sides, Clinton argued.

His gentle prodding of Israel and the Arabs stood in stark contrast to scathing attacks on the Republicans, who several months ago won back the House of Representatives in midterm elections in the United States.

"I'm very worried in the United States now, in the aftermath of these congressional elections, that the majority party in the House seems to believe that the most important public policy we can possibly have is to give me another tax cut and ... to pay for it by getting rid of all the foreign assistance," he said. "To pretend that the only thing that matters is to keep taxes as low as possible ... and strangle the government and that is what will give you a good result defies all evidence."

He chided the American voter as well: "What I mean by a parallel universe is one more time the American people rewarded the policies that they say they're against. Since 1981 when the Republicans departed from traditional conservatism into demonizing the government as an institution ... America has been dominated by them.

Given his accomplishments to date, asked World Economic Forum chief Klaus Schwab, what are his remaining goals?

"I'd like to live," said the 64-year-old ex-president, perhaps alluding to his health scares of several years ago. "I'd like to be a grandfather. I would like to have a happy wife, and she won't be unless she's a grandmother - something she wants more than she wanted to be president."

Turning serious, he added: "And before I die, whenever that is, I'd like to believe that my own country and the world had at least embraced the right paradigm. We're never going to have all the answers and we're always going to fight like crazy over the details, (but) the best thing is to be thinking about these things."