At a time when the United States continues to be embroiled in a lengthy investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, former US President Bill Clinton admitted that he himself once meddled in a foreign election, specifically in Israel. Clinton’s interference in Israeli elections would be the first of two times in which a sitting Democratic US President would make an apparent attempt to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Clinton made the revelations in an interview published on Tuesday and conducted by Israel’s Channel 10, in which worked to boost the campaign of the late Israeli President Shimon Peres during Israeli elections in 1996. That year, Is
“It would be fair to say that I tried to help Peres win the elections, and I tried to help him in such a way that I would not be openly involved,” Clinton said in the interview referring to Israeli elections in 1996. That year, the Israeli prime minister was to be elected directly for the first time on a separate ballot from the parliamentary elections.
Clinton justified his actions by claiming them to have been for the benefit of Israel.
“I tried to help (Peres), because I thought he was a bigger supporter of the peace process, and I tried to do it in a way that served, in my opinion, Israel’s interests, without saying anything about the differences in domestic policy,” Clinton added.
Three years earlier, Clinton had helped to engineer the signing of the Oslo Accords between the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin and the late chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat. Israel was still reeling seven months after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin put Shimon Peres in office.
Peres, who had been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Oslo Accords, decided to call for early elections based on his universal popularity with the Arab electorate as well as poll numbers that gave him a 20 percent lead over Netanyahu.
As terror attacks and bombings put a damper on the popularity of the Oslo process, Netanyahu managed to close in with Peres’ who was Rabin’s successor after the latter was assassinated. Nevertheless, the polls predicted a victory on Peres’ part, but Netanyahu managed to pull off an upset with a margin of 29,457 votes, less than 1 percent of the total number of votes cast.
Apparently, Netanyahu had been fully aware of Clinton’s support for Peres.
“(Netanyahu) wanted me to know that he knew I didn’t support him and he beat us anyway. He acted in a manner very characteristic for Bibi,” Clinton said, referring to their one-on-one meeting at the White House following the elections.
“But, you know, I realized that he was now the leader of the country, and if I wanted to support the peace I had to find a way to work with him. I wasn’t so much angry as just bemused by the brashness with which he played his hand. But that’s who he is. He did a very good job of it.”
Almost 20 years later, the administration of the next US Democratic president, Barack Obama would also interfere in Israeli elections. A US Senate inquiry confirmed in 2016 that a grant of $350,000 from the US State Department given to the OneVoice International, an NGO that supports the creation of an “independent and viable Palestine” alongside Israel, was used to organize a campaign dubbed, “V15” with the goal of preventing the reelection of Netanyahu in 2015. AlThough the actions of the Obama administration were not considered to have been illegal, the bipartisan committee rebuked the State Department for procedural shortcomings.
Channel 10’s interview with Bill Clinton will be published in full next week.