U.S. Official Fires Back at Jews As Netanyahu Takes Case to Hill

America’s top official for Middle East affairs has fired back at the organized Jewish community for criticizing President Clinton’s peace policies.

“I would urge people who in this time of difficulty are worried about what President Clinton might or might not do to remember that this president did not get the reputation in the Jewish community of being the most pro-Israel president in the history of the relationship for nothing,” said Martin Indyk, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs.

Responding to a reporter’s question at the American Jewish Committee’s annual conference here Thursday, Indyk urged the Jewish community to “have faith” in Clinton and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as they continue to push Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept an American plan for breaking the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I would urge you to lend your support to that effort,” he added.

Indyk spoke hours before Netanyahu began a second round of talks with Albright in Washington. This week’s meetings are a last-ditch effort to win support from Netanyahu for the U.S. plan, which calls on Israel to withdraw from an additional 13 percent of West Bank land and on the Palestinians to take concrete steps to ensure security.

The remarks also came as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella body of 55 Jewish groups, sent a letter accusing the administration of creating “the perception of a shift in U.S. policy on critical issues affecting relations with Israel.”

The group called on the president to “put these concerns to rest by reaffirming the United States’ steadfast commitments to Israel.”

The umbrella group also asked to meet with the president at the “earliest possible time.”

The letter acknowledged a range of views in the Jewish community on the peace process, but wrote that “among the issues on which there is a clear consensus is that the government of Israel alone must make the difficult determinations affecting Israel’s security.”

The letter also calls on Clinton to make clear to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat that “any unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state would be a gross violation of the Oslo accords and would not be recognized by the U.S.”

As Indyk urged support for the administration, Netanyahu was receiving support from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Netanyahu held a series of meetings with congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.)

“There was a unanimous feeling of support for the prime minister,” Lott said after the meetings.

Last month, more than 80 senators and 200 representatives wrote to Clinton urging him not to pressure Israel.

Meanwhile, in a series of appearances in Washington, Netanyahu hinted that he would agree to the American demand that Israel withdraw from 13 percent of the West Bank if the Palestinians agree to concrete security requirements.

Netanyahu told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that the major sticking point in the talks is whether Albright would demand another sizable withdrawal in a couple of months.

American and Israeli negotiators continued to work today to hammer out an agreement.

For Israel, “the issue is not how many slices we have, but the total amount we are slicing,” Netanyahu said.

“If I’m satisfied that the Palestinians have committed to a concrete program of fulfilling their obligations, and I stress the word concrete, then I would look at the question of what it is that we are redeploying,” Netanyahu said.

“If I have those assurances, then I will move forward, and you will see that if those terms are satisfied, you will see it very, very soon.”

Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on Friday.

He was slated to speak at a few New York synagogues over the weekend and to lead the New York City Israel Day Parade on Sunday, before returning to Washington to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference Sunday night.

NEXT STORY