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Israeli Ambassador Denies Efforts to Muzzle Opposition

As he urges patience with the pace of the Middle East peace process, Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, has denied charges that he and his staff are trying to muzzle American Jewish opponents of his country’s policies.

Reviewing the situation on the ground one year after the signing of the accords in Cairo, which set stage for Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho, Rabinovich described the broad results as “mixed, but satisfactory.”

Although the performance and attitude of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat leave much to be desired, “give the terrible conditions in Gaza, he is not doing such a bad job,” Rabinovich said in an interview during a visit here last week.

“You have to judge this according to Middle Eastern standards,” he added. “Gaza is not Belgium and it’s not Sweden.”

The ambassador is currently facing several hot-button issues on the American political scene, with profound implications for Israel. They come amid some reports that he is exerting heavy-handed pressure to prevent public discussion on these issues.

One is a move in some congressional quarters, supported by such organizations as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, to hold a full-scale debate on whether the United States should commit itself to stationing troops on the Golan as part of an Israel-Syria peace agreement.

Alleged pressure tactics by the Israeli Embassy to stifle such debate and deny a platform to opponents of stationing troops were recently reported in The Jerusalem Post, but are strongly denied by Rabinovich.

Such allegations, the ambassador said, “reflect the frustration of two or three individuals, representing very small groups, who have tried to obstruct Israeli policy.”

As head of the Israeli team negotiating with the Syrians, Rabinovich said, “I can assure you that we are at least months away from any settlement, and I am not at all certain that we will get one.”

However, any settlement should included provisions for a multi-national monitoring force, and “we would prefer, underline prefer, that the United States be part of such a security force,” he added.

Obviously annoyed by the article in The Jerusalem Post, Rabinovich said that when “we have to be distracted from the very difficult negotiations with Syria to respond to such speculations, it is not very helpful.”

Similarly, on another hot-button issue, the question whether Arafat’s Palestinian Authority is complying with the terms of its accord with Israel, “we do not need to be outflanked by individuals who think they know better than we do what is good for us,” the ambassador said.

The debate has arisen as Congress prepare to consider renewal of legislation that would authorize continued U.S. aid to the Palestinians.

Even stronger emotions have been engendered by the recently introduced legislation on move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by 1999, with groundbreaking to take place in 1996.

The Clinton administration, and dovish groups in Israel and the United States, argue that passage of the bill at this time would elicit such intense Arab reaction as to lead to a likely breakdown of the Middle East peace process.

“Our position on Jerusalem is clear,” said Rabinovich, echoing the public position of his government. “Jerusalem is unified, under Israeli sovereignty, and the capital of Israel. The [Dole] initiative is a domestic American dispute and we don’t want to be drawn into it.”

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