WASHINGTON – Former President Clinton (search) said Friday he thought the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) gave peace another chance in the Middle East, but he spoke wryly of his past efforts to forge such a deal.
"It is obvious, if I could be candid, that we've got another chance at peace in the Middle East because Yasser Arafat died and really because Abu Mazen wants to do it," Clinton told the American Jewish Committee.
Arafat died in November; the new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) is also known as Abu Mazen.
Clinton spoke to the group at a Washington hotel where he was honored for his work with former president George H.W. Bush on tsunami relief (search) efforts.
He urged the audience to take an active role as a non-government organization to push elected leaders toward peace, but offered a somewhat jaded view of how long it will take.
"It's going to be still a very tough slog and it won't happen overnight," Clinton said.
Both Israelis and Palestinians are facing their own internal political pressures that may push them away from a peace deal, he said.
"We need to buy both sides some time here," Clinton said.
The former president worked with Arafat and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (search) leading up to the 1993 signing of an accord at the White House that gave Arafat control of most of Gaza and 27 percent of the West Bank.
The president had a much more frustrating experience as his time in office ran out in 2000. He brought Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (search) for settlement talks that came close to a new deal but fell through over the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian resettlement.
When Clinton left office, his successor, President Bush, cut off all contact with Arafat, considering him a corrupt and failed leader.
Speaking of his efforts in 1993, Clinton said, "We were much more hopeful and maybe naive then than we are now."