Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday drew a link between extremism and lack of opportunity in the Middle East, telling students in the region that suicide bombers are driven by a feeling they have more to gain in the afterlife than now.

The former president hushed a packed basketball stadium at the American University in Dubai when he asked, rhetorically: "What leads people to suicide bombing?"

Answering his own question, Clinton said: "They believe they have more to gain in the next world than this one."

"They believe that change is not possible through reasoned, common efforts," he continued. "They believe that, absent some cataclysmic and destructive event, that tomorrow is going to be just like yesterday."

That feeling, he said, is the "major danger" confronting Palestinians and Israelis today.

"If we keep going on where the Palestinians are absolutely convinced that tomorrow is going to be just like yesterday, it can have calamitous consequences not just for them, but for all the rest of you as well," he said.

Clinton's comments came as his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was elsewhere in the region defending the U.S. stance toward Israeli settlements to worried Arab allies.

After meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, the secretary of state told reporters that Washington does not accept the legitimacy of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

But she said an Israeli offer to restrain — but not halt — construction represents "positive movement forward" toward resuming stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The former president's comments in Dubai — a peaceful enclave that has largely been spared the region's violent extremism — were part of a broader address urging students to work to overcome the triple challenges of inequality, instability and unsustainability he said confront the world today.

In the talk, he praised the American-style university for offering young women the same chances as men, drawing enthusiastic applause when he said such equality was "key to the future of the Middle East."

Before and after Clinton's address, students of both genders mingled and danced side by side to thumping Western pop music.

Some young women wore headscarves and full-length robes, but many others went with uncovered hair and campus T-shirts.

Clinton also highlighted the need promote education, equality and economic opportunity in fighting extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, telling students "we cannot shoot our way out of the world's instability."

"Peace is not just the absence of conflict," the former president said. "It is the presence of opportunity and cooperation and a sense of justice and fairness and movement."

During his visit to the Persian Gulf sheikdom, Clinton also met with Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and other senior officials, according to state news agency WAM. The two reportedly discussed education, the economy and regional issues.

Besides being Dubai's top official, Sheik Mohammed serves as vice president and prime minister of the seven-state United Arab Emirates federation.