News Analysis: Rabin’s Trip to Washington Seen to Offer Political Boost

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin will receive a temporary domestic political boost as he visits the capital this week, but no one here is expecting this visit to pack the dramatic punch of his last appearance in Washington.

That groundbreaking handshake on the White House lawn Sept. 13 between Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat set off a political earthquake that is still reverberating through the Middle East.

While a breakthrough with Jordan seems near, most sources here see the prime minister’s trip primarily as routine, rather than dramatic.

To begin with, this visit, which starts Thursday, is Rabin’s third trip to Washington in less than a year.

In addition, the Rabin government and the Clinton administration have forged what many observers here see as the closest relations between the United States and Israel in years.

Finally, as the Middle East peace process is now beginning to bear fruit, some here see visits and meetings — and even announcements of breakthroughs — among the various leaders as a growing component of the process.

Still, the visit, which includes a meeting Friday between President Clinton and Rabin, is expected to be a bright spot for both leaders.

Rabin has been buffeted in recent days by electoral defeats for his Labor Party, especially by Teddy Kollek’s loss in his bid to remain mayor of Jerusalem. The prime minister also has been hurt by continued violence and protests in Israel in the wake of the Israeli-PLO accord.

And Clinton, who is struggling with foreign policy crises from Bosnia to Somalia to Haiti, can point to the Middle East as one area where things are heading in the right direction.

Analysts here predict that discussions be- tween the two leaders will focus specifically on the implementation of the Israeli-PLO accord, and will also deal with the other negotiating tracks between Israel and Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

The Americans have served as arbiters on past Israeli-Arab accords, and although much of the Israeli-PLO accord was worked out secretly in Norway, the Clinton administration has been deeply involved in promoting the peace process.

NO PUSH FROM THE U.S.

Many see progress on the Syrian track as crucial to the success of a future “comprehensive” settlement, but the sense is that the U.S. administration will not push Rabin to move more quickly on the Syrian track than he wants.

Rabin is concerned that simultaneous progress and land-for-peace deals with both Syria and the Palestinians could overload the Israeli public.

In addition, sources here assume that Rabin will emerge from the visit with some further demonstrations of American support relating to Israeli security that will enable him to return home better able to answer critics of the peace process.

Overall, a sense of relief seems to permeate much of the American Jewish community here.

After years of holding their breath during often-tense encounters between former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the Bush administration, many Jewish leaders here have been able to relax a little because of the good rapport between Clinton and Rabin.

In addition to the September meeting, the two leaders met here in March.

During his visit, Rabin is also scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Les Aspin; Gen. John Shalikashvili, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and members of Congress. He will then address the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations in Montreal.

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