WASHINGTON (Mar. 21)
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told an upbeat gathering of Jewish activists here that he had “great confidence” in President Clinton and in his efforts to help Israel achieve its goals of peace and security.
Supporters of Israel from across the country gathered at the 34th annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee this week in an optimistic mood, hoping that the warm rapport between Clinton and Rabin will translate into smooth relations among Israel, the United States and the American Jewish community.
In a live-via-satellite address from Israel on Sunday, Rabin recapped the series of meetings he held last week in Washington with Clinton and other administration officials, and with members of Congress.
The prime minister said he was “more than pleased” when Clinton told him that the United States would work to minimize Israel’s risk during the peace process by assisting Israel militarily and economically.
Rabin said he told Clinton in their meeting last week that: “We are ready to take risks, calculated risks, for the achievement of peace.”
Rabin said he feels, after his meeting with Clinton, that Israel and the United States “have established a solid basis” to bring U.S. assistance to “Israel’s efforts to achieve peace, to cope with terror and to bring reform to our economy and society.”
RABIN-CLINTON MEETING CONSIDERED SUCCESS
The pro-Israel community considered the Rabin-Clinton meeting a resounding success.
The prime minister was to have addressed the AIPAC conference in person, but he cut his American trip short last week in order to return home to deal with the wave of violence sweeping across Israel.
While Rabin has in the past criticized AIPAC for not playing a constructive role in U.S.-Israel relations, his tone Sunday was complimentary.
Rabin said that although he has had his “differences” with the lobbying group, AIPAC is “the most effective” organization promoting strong ties between the two countries.
He said he was “more than thankful” to AIPAC, and encouraged it to continue its “holy work” for Israel.
In his speech, the prime minister repeated many of the themes he voiced during his recent U.S. trip. He called for compromise on both sides in the peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors, scheduled to resume here April 20, and spoke of Israel’s desire for peace and security.
He also praised the Clinton administration for supporting the continuation of Israel’s aid level at $3 billion for fiscal year 1994, and praised the United States for vowing to work to end the Arab economic boycott of Israel.
Rabin termed the boycott “economic warfare” against Israel and said the U.S. approach was “very much appreciated.”
In remarks to the crowd of over 2,000 people, Itamar Rabinovich, the Israeli ambassador to Washington who also serves as Israel’s chief negotiator with the Syrians, discussed the prospects for the peace negotiations.
He said there was “reason to believe” that “progress” would be made this spring.
The ambassador said that Israel was not “assigning precedence” to either the Syrian or Palestinian negotiating track. “We do not assign a priority,” he said.
Both American and Israeli officials recently have expressed optimism about the future of the Israeli-Syrian negotiations.
But it is still unclear whether the Palestinians will resume negotiating on April 20. They have vowed not to come back until all of the 415 Palestinians deported by Israel in December are returned.
Rep. Robert Michel (R-Ill.), the House minority leader, told attendees that the United States must not treat foreign policy as an “afterthought.”
He warned against overly deep cuts in military spending, and said the United States must be strong to carry out a realistic foreign policy.
In a briefing with the Jewish press after the session, AIPAC leaders expressed optimism about their organization and the role it can play in maintaining strong U.S.-Israel relations.
AIPAC President Steve Grossman and Executive Director Thomas Dine said they felt the United States would not back off from its commitment to maintaining Israel’s foreign aid level, despite calls for increased U.S. aid to the strifetorn former Soviet Union.
Grossman spoke positively of the Clinton-Rabin meeting last week, and said the mood at the conference was “upbeat from that stand-point.”
He said AIPAC was seeking to build up its future leadership in a “time of relative calm and stability,” rather than “having events overtake you.”
He noted a “sea change in grass-roots activism” and said that was “good news” for his organization.
About 1,200 of the conference participants were college students.