NEW YORK (Jan. 19)
Vice President Al Gore has joined the growing chorus of U.S. officials criticizing Israel for freezing the implementation of peace accords with the Palestinians.
In his first speech to a Jewish audience since formally launching his candidacy for president, Gore last week called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to implement the October Wye peace accord with “no new conditions.”
Gore issued his call to both parties, but Israel has been the sole target of criticism from the Clinton administration for imposing such conditions.
The Wye agreement linked Israeli further redeployment from the West Bank to specific Palestinians steps to crack down on terrorism. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed the redeployment outlined in the accord, citing Palestinian violations of the accord that are not recognized by the United States.
Gore’s speech Jan. 13 to the Israel Policy Forum, a group founded to support the Oslo peace process, came in the midst of a U.S. push to convince the Israeli government to fulfill its promise to redeploy from additional territory in the West Bank.
Shortly before the vice president’s speech, senior State Department officials told key U.S. senators that the White House might not follow through on $1.2 billion in additional aid for Israel to help pay the costs of the redeployment until the peace process is back on track.
This delay will likely postpone a request for an additional $400 million for the Palestinians as well.
A senior Palestinian official in the United States said that any aid for Israel would benefit Netanyahu’s election campaign. With this in mind, the Palestinians will not press for the aid now.
“We do not need the money that badly,” he said.
To the applause of the some 600 gathered at the fund-raising dinner, Gore said, “The president and I call on both sides to implement Wye as signed with no new conditions.”
The speech likely ended speculation that Gore, seeking the presidency, harbored more hawkish views than the president on the peace process.
Gore echoed Clinton’s comments last month in the Gaza Strip calling for the peace accords to recognize the “legitimate interests of the Palestinians.”
Dore Gold, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who attended the dinner along with a handful of ambassadors from Arab states, refused to comment after Gore’s speech.
In Israel, meanwhile, Netanyahu this week reiterated his earlier stance that implementation of the Wye agreement would not be affected by upcoming national elections.
“We want to move forward, and we shall move forward the minute those obligations are carried out. With elections or without elections, this is a commitment that we have made and we shall keep,” Netanyahu said.
In the aftermath of the Wye accord, amid left-wing criticism over too little progress and right-wing anger over too many concessions, the Knesset voted to move elections forward to May from the year 2000.
As Gore jumped into the turbulent waters of the peace process, he also reiterated long-standing U.S. policy on Israel. The entire U.S.-Israel relationship does not rest on the ups and downs of the peace process, the vice president said.
In addition, whatever happens in the Israeli election, the United States remains true to certain “bedrock principles.”
“The United States of America will spend every effort to promote security for the State of Israel,” he said.
Calling U.S. support for Israel “ironclad,” Gore also said that security will best come from a secure and lasting peace. “The United States of America will continue to devote all of our faith, energy and optimism to the pursuit of peace with security in the Middle East.”