President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared their mutual admiration for each other and their respective efforts to pursue peace in the Middle East this week.
Making a joint appearance at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday night, the two leaders vowed to more than 2,000 pro-Israel activists here to push forward with their quest for peace.
Their appearance followed a meeting earlier the same evening between the president and prime minister at the White House.
The meeting, which lasted about an hour, focused primarily on the stalled Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations and efforts to contain Iran, according to Israeli U.S. officials.
In a briefing with reporters Sunday night, Rabin said he told the presidents that the question of security arrangements is key to reaching an agreement with Syria.
He said Israel and Syria had not yet reached an agreement about borders.
Rabin said he hoped an upcoming visit to Washington by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, scheduled for mid-May, would lead to a resumption in talks on security issues between Israeli and Syrian military officials. Talks between the two nations’ ambassadors to Washington have been proceeding sporadically during the past few months.
But, Rabin added, he is not holding his breath.
Concerning Syria, he said, “I’ve learned that until it happens, it hasn’t happened yet.”
Rabin said the issue of Israeli land expropriation in eastern Jerusalem did not come up in his meeting with Clinton. The administration has expressed concern over Israel’s decision to confiscate about 140 acres of land, a decision that has also sparked outrage in the Arab world.
Rabin and Clinton also did not discuss the question of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Rabin said, an issue that has returned to the fore in the wake of congressional efforts to push the administration to begin such a process.
Both leaders also avoided the jerusalem-related issues in their speeches at the AIPAC conference, though Rabin did allude often to jerusalem, reiterating Israel’s longstanding policy that “Jerusalem is united under Israel’s sovereignty, the capital of Israel and the heart of the Jewish people forever.”
Clinton’s lack of reference to Jerusalem was noted by several observers, especially since his administration has, in the past, expressed support for jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. However, the administration has said the status of Jerusalem should be left to final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, scheduled to begin next year.
The president, who has been making numerous appearances at Jewish gatherings in recent weeks, instead focused his remarks on Rabin’s peacemaking efforts, his own trip to Russia and his administration’s commitment to foreign aid.
Praising the prime minister for having a “level of fortitude and vision most people in any elected democracy cannot muster,” Clinton urged the audience to “stand with this brave man in his attempts to make peace.”
Listing a series of recent weapons sales and transfers to the Jewish state, Clinton vowed to “minimize those risks” Israel may be required to take for peace.
In that context, Clinton pledged that “in any agreement Israel concludes with Syria, it will have the means to defend itself by itself.”
The president also enlisted American jews to lobby for foreign aid, saying Israel would be “the first to be affect” by proposed cuts in foreign policy spending.
Even if those cuts did not affect direct U.S. economic assistance to Israel, Clinton said, other reductions would “threaten our efforts to help Israel reach a lasting peace with its neighbors.”
“If we renege on our commitments to Egypt, to Jordan, to the Palestinians, we will never convince anybody else that we will stand behind our commitments,” the president said.
He added that “two of my proudest moments as president” came at the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian accords in Washington and the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty in the Arava, on the border between the two countries.
Rabin, in his remarks, praised the president for his “leadership and inspiration and America’s contribution to the peace process.”
Rabin vowed to continue his quest for peace but warned that the “Islamic world backed by Iran is the greatest danger to stability, tranquility and peace in the Middle East.”
On Monday, Rabin met with congressional leaders, with whom he emphasized the threat from Iran. He also lobbied for foreign aid in general and for Israel and its peace partners in particular.
Before flying home Monday night, Rabin stopped in New Jersey to visit the family of Alisa Flatow, the Brandeis University student killed during a terrorist attack in Gaza last month.
Expressing gratitude for her parents’ decision to donate their daughter’s organs in Israel, Rabin said Sunday night that when he conveys his condolences, “I will think how much Alisa Flatow symbolizes the connection between you, the American Jewish community, and Israel.
“Today her heart beats in Jerusalem,” Rabin said.