Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, led the attack on the Bush administration for undermining U.S.-Israeli relations at the 86th annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee here.
Although most speakers found fault with the administration, he was the most vociferous. While agreeing with the others that the relationship remains solid despite current disagreements over loan guarantees and Jewish settlements in the administered territories, Clinton charged that “terrific damage has been done.”
Only Edward Djerejian, assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs, stood up for the administration, claiming that differences over settlements and loan guarantees are not “the litmus test of this relationship.”
Clinton spoke by telephone from California to the 700 people attending the AJCommittee dinner Thursday night. He said he had applauded the administration for its actions in the Persian Gulf War and for bringing Israel and the Arabs to the negotiating table.
“But since that time virtually everything which has been done has been wrong,” the presidential hopeful said. “Israel has been singled out for repeated attacks by this administration.”
U.S. MUST ACT AS ‘GUARANTOR’
Clinton stressed that the peace process can still work, “but only if the United States is willing to let the parties make peace and then willing to stand by as guarantor, along with the United Nations, to any agreement which might come out.”
The Democratic candidate also reaffirmed “my long-standing support for the loan guarantees as a basic human rights issue, something which should never have been injected into the peace process in the first place.”
The administration has refused to approve guarantees for $10 billion in loans for Israel to help absorb Jews from the former Soviet Union unless Israel agrees to freeze settlement-building in the territories.
Djerejian observed that over the years, the United States and Israel have had many differences, most of which have been settled quietly. He said occasional leaks on both sides are “irresponsible” but they do not affect the relationship.
“This relationship is solid,” he said at the AJCommittee meeting’s concluding luncheon Friday.
He stressed that no one should lose sight of the most important development in the Middle East — the bilateral talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians, which have “become commonplace.”
“We have achieved something that was unthinkable a year ago,” he said.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, also spoke at the concluding luncheon. He said Israel and the United States must not allow their disagreements to “interrupt or disturb a relationship between our two countries because in the final analysis neither of us has a substitute for the other.”
According to Shoval, the primary motivation for the Arab states in their current talks with Israel was to redeem themselves with the United States. When the Arabs see discord between the United States and Israel they take it as a sign that they do not need to reach agreement with the Jewish state, Shoval said.
At the AJCommittee dinner Wednesday night, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack, Kemp repeated what he has told other Jewish audiences, that he believes a compromise will be reached on loan guarantees because it is a humanitarian issue.
But Kemp, who spoke chiefly on the problem of the cities in the wake of the Los Angeles riots, received his loudest applause for his opening quip.
“I cleared my speech with the State Department,” he said. “I told them I was going to speak about housing issues. I didn’t say where.”