Jay Footlik’s first trip to Israel was an unusual one — he accompanied the President of the United States.
As the dynamics of the Middle East peace process shift dramatically with a new American president and the election of a new Israeli prime minister, Footlik, former special assistant to President Clinton, offered his assessment of the situation to approximately 40 Yale students in a speech at the Law School yesterday. He also talked about working in the West Wing, discussed getting his start in politics and made a few lighthearted jokes about Clinton’s successor.
“The peace we all hope for is a little further off [than it used to be], but I still believe it is down the path,” Footlik said.
The election of Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister to replace Ehud Barak, along with the departure of the Clinton administration, most likely means that a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace deal will be delayed, Footlik said.
“Now there is a president with a very different worldview. I’m not sure he has much of a worldview,” Footlik said. “No longer will you have a president willing, and in my opinion able, to invest time in — this issue.”
Footlik said he anticipates President George W. Bush will take a more regional approach to Middle East politics, focusing heavily on Iraq and Iran.
Footlik worked in the White House as principal liaison to the American Jewish community, and helped coordinate American involvement in the Oslo peace agreements between Israel and Palestinians and in the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994.
During his involvement with the Clinton administration’s efforts in the region, Footlik observed the personalities and key players in the Middle East peace process.
“In my opinion, while Ehud Barak deserves his share of responsibility for his own demise, Yasir Arafat has failed his own people,” Footlik said. “Yasir Arafat rejected what was on the table [in peace negotiations] and didn’t offer compromised positions.”
Footlik said while he observed some tensions between Prime Minister-elect Sharon and Palestinian leader Arafat over the course of his work, he thinks they will be able to make progress.
“I could care less if Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat shake hands. What matters is that they sit across from each other and advance their people’s best interests,” Footlik said.
In addition to a look behind the scenes of Middle East politics, Footlik also offered an insider’s perspective on Bill Clinton.
“Bill Clinton grew up seeking a sense of approval and a father figure,” Footlik said. “I think he found it in Yitzhak Rabin.”
Footlik said Clinton would often call Rabin to discuss matters unrelated to Israel.
“For those of you interested in the role of personalities in policy-making, study the kind of relationship Yitzhak Rabin and Bill Clinton had,” Footlik said.
Beth Deters ’04, who attended Footlik’s talk, said she enjoyed an insider’s account of working in a presidential administration.
“It was interesting for all ‘The West Wing’ fanatics. He flattered the Clinton administration by comparing it to ‘The West Wing,'” Deters said.
Footlik was brought to Yale by the Peres Center for Peace at Yale College, an offshoot of the Peres Center for Peace founded by Israeli statesman and Nobel Prize-laureate Shimon Peres.
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