WASHINGTON (Mar. 13)
Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Vice President Al Gore said the Clinton administration was doing “everything we possibly can” to ensure the success of the Middle East peace process, despite the problems ensuing from last month’s murders at a Hebron mosque.
Gore, viewed as a staunch supporter of Israel, addressed about 2,000 enthusiastic participants Sunday at the first session of AIPAC’s 35th annual policy conference.
“It would be a heartbreaking irony if in Hebron, whose very name derives from the Hebrew word for friend,” hopes for a future peace in the Middle East “could be dashed by one enemy of peace,” Gore said.
President Clinton “knows that we cannot lose the momentum that we have developed,” Gore said.
“He knows we cannot lose the sense of direction that we have had,” the vice president said.
As Gore addressed the pro-Israel activists, AIPAC’s president, Steve Grossman, and new executive director, Neal Sher, were meeting at the White House with Clinton.
Grossman, who addressed the group later in the afternoon, said he and Sher had discussed with Clinton the touchy issue of the status of Jerusalem.
The issue of Jerusalem has once again emerged as a sticking point, this time at the United Nations, where there is a dispute about whether a resolution condemning the killings of Palestinian worshipers by a Jewish settler should include a reference to Jerusalem as occupied territory.
AIPAC REJECTS REFERENCE TO JERUSALEM
AIPAC objects to such a formulation, Grossman said, adding that AIPAC views Jerusalem as the eternal and undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people.
Previous statements by Clinton and the wording of the 1992 Democratic Party platform are in agreement with those views, he said.
Grossman said he reminded Clinton at the meeting of these previous statements and said Clinton responded that this policy was still the correct one.
The timing of the 20-minute meeting with the president — coming as Gore was addressing the AIPAC conference — was a coincidence, Grossman later told reporters.
Gore, in his remarks, also commented on the issue of Jerusalem.
“I want to assure you at this critical moment that the president and I have not forgotten the meaning of Jerusalem,” he said.
The vice president said the administration was actively involved in the process of drafting the U.N. resolution.
“If this resolution can be developed in the right spirit, it may allow both parties to rejoin each other at the negotiating table and to resume the process which Hebron threatens to destroy,” Gore said.
“Badly handled, on the other hand, this resolution can even more deeply signify the division between the parties, and create a new and formidable obstacle to negotiations, at the worst possible moment,” he added.
On the issue of the peace process, Gore said the president “cannot impose a solution and will not, on Israel or on the Palestinians.”
The parties must agree between themselves, he said.
Gore also said the administration hoped for progress in the negotiations between Israel and Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
He said the administration welcomed Syrian President Hafez Assad’s recent comments about future normal relations with Israel.
“But Syria needs to do more. It must engage the government and people of Israel in the only kind of dialogue that can establish the basis for lasting peace and security, one that involves both the words and the deeds of peace,” Gore said.
Gore offered a plea to the AIPAC activists to continue supporting the peace process.
“We do need those of you in this room to lend your support to this process, as you have been doing,” he said.
Also addressing the participants at the AIPAC conference was House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who also got a warm reception.
Gingrich, who offered strongly pro-Israel remarks, praised AIPAC for its work, saying that with the lobby’s help, last year’s vote on foreign aid was “the best vote ever” in Congress.
“You are literally the only grass-roots organization in this country” working on foreign aid issues, Gingrich told the participants.
“If you were not here, I believe that overnight, support for our involvement” in Israel and around the world would collapse, he said.
Both Gore and Gingrich spoke out against the longtime Arab economic boycott of Israel and of companies doing business with Israel. Ending the boycott has been a high priority for the U.S. government in recent months.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is scheduled to address the AIPAC conference Tuesday.