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In December 2000, following Israel’s unilateral decision to suspend negotiations with the Palestinians, US President Clinton (then in the final months of his term) attempted to reinvigorate the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations by setting forth a series of “parameters” within which the question of Palestinian rights would be resolved. The parameters were dictated by President Clinton during a White House meeting, attended by both Palestinian and Israeli representatives.

President Clinton’s parameters came 18 months after the Oslo deadline in which Israel was supposed to have ended its military occupation and three months after the start of the Palestinian uprising against occupation. The parameters, given orally at a tri-lateral meeting, built upon previous negotiations with Israel, but fell well short of the international legal standard for ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and recognizing the rights of Palestinian refugees.

What were the terms of the Clinton Parameters?
The Clinton parameters focused on many, but not all, of the permanent status issues: colonies (settlements); refugees; Jerusalem; borders and security.
Clinton Parameters on Borders:

Based on what I heard, I believe that the solution should be in the mid-90%’s, between 94-96% of the West Bank territory for the Palestinian state. The land annexed by Israel should be compensated by a land swap of 1-3% in addition to territorial arrangements such as a permanent safe passage. The Parties also should consider the swap of leased land to meet their respective needs. There are creative ways for doing this that should address Palestinian and Israeli needs and concerns. The Parties should develop a map consistent with the following criteria: 80% of settlers in blocs; contiguity; minimize annexed area, and minimize the number of Palestinians affected.


  • The proposal failed to set out the total area of the Occupied West Bank and therefore references to percentages are vague. Although the international community has consistently recognized East Jerusalem as occupied territory, Israel refuses to consider East Jerusalem as occupied. Israel therefore insisted (and the United States never challenged) that East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank not be part of the total area from which percentages are to be calculated. The Clinton parameters are unclear: would the Palestinian state consist of 94-96% of the entire West Bank, including Occupied East Jerusalem, or would the Palestinian state consist of 94-96% of the Occupied West Bank, excluding Israeli-defined Jerusalem, a figure that is up to 7.5% less than the actual size of the Occupied West Bank?

  • President Clinton’s proposal that 4-6% of the Occupied West Bank be annexed into Israel, in effect, rewarded Israel for its illegal colonization. Under international law, Israel has no legal claim to any part of the the Occupied Palestinian Territories. However, since Israel’s occupation began in 1967, Israel has pursued a policy of colonizing the Occupied Palestinian Territories in an attempt to create facts on the ground. The international community has uniformly condemned Israel’s colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Yet rather than punish Israel for its violations of international law, the Clinton parameters in effect punished the Palestinians by forcing the Palestinians to give up land that Israel has illegally colonized. In addition, the built-up areas of all of the Israeli colonies in the Occupied West Bank (excluding Occupied East Jerusalem) currently represent approximately 2% of the Occupied West Bank. An annexation of 4-6% of the Occupied West Bank would be 2-3 times the total built-up area of the colonies.

  • The accommodation of 80% of Israeli settlers also legitimized what is illegal under international law. Since the start of the Oslo process, Israel has used financial incentives to nearly double the number of settlers living in colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Rather than provide incentives for Israelis to move out of the colonies, President Clinton’s proposal sought to legitimize their presence. Furthermore, in order to accommodate 80% of Israeli settlers, colony “blocs” would need to be annexed into Israel. These blocs are located in high-yield Palestinian agricultural areas and sit atop valuable water resources. Their annexation to Israel would deprive Palestinians of Palestinian water and agricultural resources.

  • President Clinton also proposed a 1-3% “land swap” whereby Israel would “compensate” the Palestinians with less land in exchange for the land it would annex. President Clinton failed to insist that any annexed land be compensated with land of equal size and value. The lands Israel discussed in previous negotiations included desert land and a parcel of land in the vicinity of an Israeli toxic waste dump.

Clinton Parameters on Jerusalem:

The general principle is that Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli. This would apply to the Old City as well. I urge the two sides to work on maps to create maximum contiguity for both sides.


  • President Clinton’s formulation focused only on Israeli-Occupied East Jerusalem and not all of Jerusalem, as specified in the Oslo Agreements. The seemingly-fair principle of “what’s Arab shall be Palestinian and what’s Jewish shall be Israeli” in effect legitimizes Israel’s colonization of East Jerusalem – colonization that has been condemned widely by the United Nations. Almost half of Israel’s nearly 400,000 settlers reside illegally in Occupied East Jerusalem. The East Jerusalem colonies encircle Palestinian populated areas of Jerusalem. As a result, the Palestinian areas would become islands encircled by Israel, with no contiguity to the rest of the Palestinian state. The Clinton parameters on Jerusalem effectively enlarge Israel's border while carving away the Palestinian population.

Clinton Parameters on Refugees:

The solution will have to be consistent with the two-state approach that both sides have accepted as the way to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Under the two-state solution, the guiding principle should be that the Palestinian state will be the focal point for Palestinians who choose to return to the area without ruling out that Israel will accept some of these refugees.

I believe that we need to adopt a formulation on the right of return that will make clear that there is no specific right of return to Israel itself but that does not negate the aspiration of the Palestinian people to return to the area.


  • President Clinton’s proposal constitutes a polite denial of the Palestinian right of return. The right of return has been enshrined in international law and in international legal practice. For example, the right of Bosnia refugees to return to their homes was enshrined in the Dayton Accords, as the international community did not wish to reward Serbia’s attempts to ethnically cleanse the Bosnians from their homeland. It is important to remember that the only reasons that Palestinians cannot return to their homes is because they are not Jewish. Israel’s Law of Return allows for unlimited Jewish immigration to Israel, yet Muslim and Christian Palestinian refugees wishing to return are not able to do so. By rejecting the right of return, the Clinton proposal continues to uphold discrimination on the basis of religion and fails to resolve the legitimate rights of Palestinian refugees.

Clinton Parameters on Security:

The key lies in an international presence that can only be withdrawn by mutual consent. This presence will also monitor the implementation of the agreement between both sides.

My best judgment is that the Israeli withdrawal should be carried out over 36 months while international forces are gradually introduced into the area.

At the end of this period, a small Israeli presence would remain in fixed locations in the Jordan Valley under the authority of the international force for another 36 months. This period could be reduced in the event of favorable regional developments that diminish the threats to Israel.


  • There is no reason why Israel requires three years to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israel withdrew from the occupied portions of Lebanon within a few days.

  • It is unclear whether the proposal relates to soldiers and settlers. If the proposal also refers to settlers, in view of the fact that Israel “resettled” more than one million Russian immigrants in a few years, it is unclear why it would take Israel three years to evacuate nearly 400,000 settlers.

  • It is also unclear why Israel requires a standing force in the Jordan Valley or emergency deployment rights –much less both. Given that international forces will be present in these areas, Israel’s presence is unnecessary.


Like other “proposals” to resolve the Palestinian-Israel conflict, President Clinton’s parameters deviated from international law to the detriment of the Palestinians, while legitimizing Israel’s illegal settlement activity and human rights violations. Taken together, the parameters fell short of the requirements for a permanent peace. In addition, the parameters sought to: (1) divide Palestinian Jerusalem into a number of unconnected islands separate from each other and from the rest of Palestine and (2) force Palestinians to surrender the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Did the Palestinians reject the Clinton Parameters?

No. Due to the vague nature of the parameters and the failure of the parameters to meet up to international legal standards, the Palestinian negotiating team sent President Clinton a letter accepting the parameters with reservations.

What was Israel’s position vis-à-vis the Clinton Parameters?

Israel also accepted the parameters with reservations. As a result of both sides’ acceptance of the parameters, the parties convened in Taba, Egypt at the end of January for what became the last round of Palestinian-Israel negotiations. (Map: Taba, September 2001)

keyword: Negotiations and the Peace Process

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