WASHINGTON (Nov. 16)
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin left Washington this week with strong commitments from the Clinton administration that Israel would be well-compensated for the risks it is taking in the Middle East peace process.
On his last trip here, Rabin made history by shaking hands with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn after the Israelis and Palestinians signed a historic accord.
On his first post-handshake visit, Rabin was assured by U.S. officials that they would help Israel implement that accord by providing the Jewish state with additional displays of support.
Thus, Rabin accomplished one of the key goals of his visit, locking in American support as Israel makes difficult moves in its negotiations with its Arab partners.
Israelis have been nervous that as the Rabin government works to implement the declaration of principles it signed with the Palestinians, Israel’s security stands at risk. Since that accord was signed here Sept. 13, terrorist attacks and settler protests in the territories have provided political fodder for opponents of the accord and have led some initial supporters to waver.
Rabin came here as Israel appears to be on the verge of signing some sort of agreement with Jordan. But talks with Syria and Lebanon have been stalled for months.
Syria is viewed by the United States as the key to a “comprehensive” Middle East peace.
And Israel, too, sees the necessity of making progress on the Syrian negotiating track.
Rabin, however, has expressed concern that the Israeli public would have a hard time digesting simultaneous land-for-peace deals with both the Palestinians and Syria.
The prime minister has said to various groups here that his primary focus now is implementing the accord with the Palestinians.
During Rabin’s stay here, President Clinton reportedly sent Syrian President Hafez Assad a letter stating that both the United States and Israel support the idea of a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Also during the Israeli leader’s visit, the State Department announced that Secretary of State Warren Christopher would travel to the Middle East in early December to further progress in the peace talks.
It would be his first trip to the region since the signing of the Israel-PLO accords.
During his meetings at the White House and the Pentagon, Rabin was largely greeted by supportive American officials who seemed eager to help Israel continue on the road to peace.
CLEAR SIGN THAT WASHINGTON IS PLEASED
The Clinton administration has been making an effort to help the parties who cooperate in the peace process, pledging to maintain Israel’s and Egypt’s high levels of aid, and hosting an international donors’ conference to raise money for the Palestinians.
Despite constraints on the U.S. budget, Clinton vowed last Friday to maintain Israel’s aid level. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, getting $3 billion a year.
In addition, Rabin is returning home with pledges of American support in the area of military assistance.
In a meeting Monday at the Pentagon, Rabin and Secretary of Defense Les Aspin discussed how Israel could modernize its military capabilities, including the possible purchase of fighter jets.
The positive atmosphere in which these meetings were conducted was a clear sign that official Washington is pleased with the progress of the Middle East peace talks, which just several months ago some viewed as hopelessly stalled.
There were some signs of the changing times here, such as the first-ever meeting held here Tuesday between Rabin and Arab journalists, businesspeople and diplomats, including the ambassadors of Egypt and Qatar.
Besides meetings with the Arabs, Rabin spent most of his time here with the president, the secretaries of defense and state, members of Congress and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
He also visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum here for the first time.
Rabin was then headed to Montreal to address the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations.