WASHINGTON (Sep. 20)
The United States has decided to convene an international conference to secure financial backing for the historic Israeli-Palestinian accord signed at the White House last week.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Monday that the United States would invite finance and foreign ministers from European, Middle Eastern and other countries to an international conference “to support Middle East peace.”
“Today, on behalf of President Clinton, I announce our intention to lead a wide-ranging effort, not simply to give peace a chance, but to ensure that it will not fail,” Christopher said.
Israeli and Palestinian representatives will be included in the conference, which State Department officials said would take place within the next several weeks.
In addition, the secretary said the Clinton administration would create a task force of leading Jewish and Arab Americans to help develop projects and private investment in the region.
Christopher cited an initial World Bank estimate that at least $3 billion would be needed over the next 10 years to build a viable economic system in the impoverished West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The secretary’s remarks, in a major foreign policy speech at Columbia University in New York, represented the administration’s efforts to build on the landmark Israeli-Palestinian agreement that would grant limited self-rule to Palestinians, beginning with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.
Christopher said that with the help of the U.S. Congress, the administration hoped to come up with a two-year, $250 million aid package for the Palestinians.
The sense here has been that the Americans would function more as an assembler of international sources of assistance and less as a provider of vast quantities of U.S. aid.
Foreign aid has not been a popular issue here lately, and it is doubtful that very large amounts of assistance would be forthcoming from Congress.
COMMITMENT TO ISRAEL ‘UNSHAKABLE’
But Christopher reiterated the administration’s oft-stated commitment to Israel and its security.
“I restate a longstanding pledge to the Israeli public. As you and your leaders continue down the courageous path you have chosen, you should know that America’s commitment to Israeli security and well-being will remain unshakable,” he said.
The administration is ready to present Congress with a newly revamped plan for allocating foreign aid around the world, leading some to ask how long Israel will continue to receive its annual installment of $3 billion in U.S. aid.
But the administration has hinted that Israel could actually receive more aid in the future because of its role in the peace process.
Christopher said that the administration is “confident” that the Palestinians’ needs will be met with the international aid effort, which would be partly coordinated by the World Bank.
The conference is to be convened by Christopher and Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, along with their Russian counterparts.
In his address at Columbia, the secretary also called for other changes in the wake of the historic Israeli-Palestinian accord.
He addressed the question of the longtime Arab boycott of Israel, calling it “illogical.”
“The boycott is a relic of the past. It should be relegated to history right now,” he said.
Christopher also called on the U.S. Congress to amend “statutes that inhibit dealing with the PLO and are really quite antiquated at this time.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization, with which the Clinton administration recently renewed its dialogue, is reportedly seeking to open a diplomatic office here by next month.
But opening an office would require amendments to congressional legislation barring certain dealings with the PLO, long regarded as a terrorist organization.