Fighting between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland had gone on for years and cost hundreds of lives, mostly of innocents caught up in terror bombings and retaliations. Following through on a 1992 campaign promise to break the logjam in Ireland, Clinton first sent a delegation of conciliation-minded Irish-Americans to the scene, and then took the bold step of accepting a visit from Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein (Gaelic for "we ourselves"), the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Since the British government regarded the IRA as a terrorist organization, it objected strongly to the legitimacy Clinton seemed to be conferring on Adams, especially as the IRA had yet to renounce "armed struggle" to "free" the British-ruled six northern counties known as Ulster. Clinton's hope was that recognition and dialogue would allow Adams to persuade his followers that there was a peaceful road to the IRA's goal. In 1994 the IRA declared a "complete cessation of military operations" for the first time in a quarter of a century. On St. Patrick's Day 1995, Clinton again entertained Adams at the White House, this time in the company of John Hume, leader of the British Labour party. This was followed by other peace-building steps—the promotion of trade and investment measures to boost the stricken economy of Northern Ireland—and a presidential visit. In 1995, ignoring the displeasure of the British government, Clinton sent former senator George J. Mitchell to chair disarmament talks between the warring factions. By 1999 there was almost a complete lull in the violence, and the negotiators were hammering out final details of an agreement for joint control and eventual independence.
On taking office in 1993, Clinton faced a decision on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Except for Egypt, the Arab states continued to refuse to recognize Israel, and the Palestinians continued their resistance to Israel's occupation and ongoing settlement of territories taken in the 1967 war. There was abundant bloodshed—again, mostly of innocent civilians—on both sides. With the cold war over, one rationale for continued support of Israel and for any U.S. intervention to stabilize the region had disappeared, and the administration of George H. W. Bush had given signs of losing interest in the matter. Clinton abandoned that posture, and gave behind-the-scenes encouragement to negotiations taking place in Oslo, Norway, between representatives of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). These culminated in a historic agreement under which the PLO agreed to recognize Israel's right to exist and Israel in turn recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Clinton, though he had played no broker's role, arranged to have the September 1993 signing ceremony take place on the White House lawn, where he stood with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as they exchanged historic handshakes for the cameras. In 1994, those two, joined by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, would be jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But the devil was in the details, and the Oslo agreements were simply a set of promises by both sides to move in a peaceful direction, but without clear road maps. Still, there was an immediate positive spin-off from the eased tensions—the signing of a peace agreement between Jordan and Israel in 1994, embodied in a "Washington Declaration" signed by Jordan's King Hussein and Rabin at the White House. A formal treaty-signing in Jordan later in the year was attended by Clinton.
Clinton continued to be warmly regarded in Israel, even though his efforts could not produce permanent peace. In the autumn of 1995 when Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish fanatic, Clinton attended the funeral. Wearing the traditional kippah, or skullcap, he stood graveside and pronounced aloud the Hebrew words "Shalom, chaver" ("goodbye, friend") in what appeared to be a genuine moment of emotion. Rabin's murder threw the situation into a newly critical phase, as the hard-line right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded to power after new elections. There were more arguments, more accusations of bad faith and fighting. As late as 1998, in the midst of impeachment, Clinton remained involved. He sponsored a new round of talks in western Maryland, spent almost a week in conference with Netanyahu and Arafat, and managed to cobble together an interim agreement, as laid out in the Wye River Memorandum, that put the peace process back on track.
In overall evaluation, Clinton deserves reasonably good marks for leadership in the post-cold war world that he inherited, where the role of the United States was uncertain. Neither a unilateralist like his successor, nor yet a peace-minded internationalist like Jimmy Carter prior to 1979, he was the guardian of an interim arrangement—an era when established international rules were changing, and defining America's interests was a genuine challenge.
However, following the events of 11 September 2001, Clinton found himself attempting to defend his administration against those who charged that his administrations did little to combat the threat of terrorism, citing inadequate responses to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000.