Clinton Denies Being Soft on Israel for Jewish Votes

President Clinton is shooting back at critics who have charged that his administration has taken a soft line with Israel because of fear of alienating American Jewish voters.

Responding to a reporter’s question about the charge before meeting Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton said, “That’s wrong.”

As the president stiffened in his chair in the Oval Office and took a more serious tone, he said, “We are not interested in making rhetorical points one way or the other. We’re interested in trying to bring about peace with security for all the people in the Middle East.”

Some Arab Americans and Middle East policy specialists have challenged that the administration is shrinking from criticizing Israel’s expansion of settlements to avoid a potential backlash from Jewish voters on Election Day.

When Israeli troops last month helped to move trailers into the West Bank to expand some settlements, the administration did not oppose the action and instead repeatedly told reporters that U.S. policy on settlements had not changed.

The State Department has long called settlements “a complicating factor” in the peace process.

The administration has, however, expressed concern about the delayed Israeli redeployment from most of the West Bank town of Hebron.

And over the weekend, Secretary of State Warren Christopher urged Israel to take new “concrete steps” to advance Middle East peace.

A State Department spokesman, Glyn Davies, rejected charges that the administration’s policy was motivated by concerns about the Jewish vote.

In defending his administration, Clinton said, “The role of the United States should be to encourage the peace process and to minimize the risks of those who take the risk for peace.”

“Different governments may have different ways of pursuing the peace process,” Clinton said Tuesday. “The only way we can be effective is to work with the elected” government of Israel.

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