In a meeting with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, President Clinton reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel while encouraging Israel to take steps to help jump-start the stalled Middle East peace process.
“Today we discussed ways to put the Israecli-Palestinian negotiations back on track. We agreed on the need for concrete measures to ensure security for Palestinians as well as for Israelis,” Clinton said at a joint news conference with Rabin on Wednesday.
But neither he nor Rabin announced any specific new concessions designed to lure the Palestine Liberation Organization back to the peace talks. The PLO broke off talks with Israel after a Jewish settler gunned down at least 29 Arab worshipers at a mosque in Hebron on Feb. 25.
The two heads of state also discussed the potential for peace with Syria. Rabin said he and Clinton had spoken of “the options that can be presented to (Syrian) President (Hafez) Assad in order to achieve peace with Syria.
“I hope that President Assad will respond appropriately and we shall be able to sign a peace treaty by the end of the year,” Rabin said.
While not specifying what he planned to do regarding a possible withdrawal from the Golan Heights, Rabin spoke of a future point, if serious negotiations with Syria occurred, at which “pain ful decisions will have to be made.
“The promise of peace and its genuine benefits for all Israelis justifies making such decisions vis-a-vis Syria. We will not compromise on our security, but we will stand ready to do what is required of us if the Syrians are ready to do what is required of them,” Rabin said.
Rabin’s brief visit to Washington this week came at a crucial time.
The United States has been working to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table in the wake of the killings in Hebron.
SERIES OF DIPLOMATIC MANEUVERS
Since that attack, there has also been a constant series of diplomatic maneuvers at the United Nations, where a controversial resolution condemning the murders is under consideration.
Reports published before Clinton and Rabin met Wednesday indicated United States may be trying to encourage Israel to consider a Palestinian proposal to establish a Palestinian police force in Hebron to better protect the local Arabs.
When asked about this at the news conference, Clinton said, “I think Israel has an obligation, as I have said, to come up with some specific initiatives for reassurance” of Palestinians concerned with security. He did not specify beyond this.
He also said he did not think the PLO should “use this as an excuse not to return to the peace talks.”
Clinton praised Rabin for the actions taken by Israel since the events in Hebron. “I think the prime minister is doing what he can to demonstrate his good faith, has been very firm in reaction to the massacre in Hebron,” the president said.
“There are some specifics that have been discussed. I think they will be forthcoming,” Clinton said, without specifying further.
Rabin, for his part, said that in the past there had been about 900 Palestinian police officers in Hebron, Ramallah, and other cities in the West Bank, but these officers had resigned as a result of the intifada, or grass-roots Palestinian uprising that began in the territories in 1987.
He said that whether or not a Palestinian police force is put into place in Hebron, Israel still retains overall control and responsibility for the territories.
ISRAEL RETAINS ‘OVERALL RESPONSIBILITY’
“As long as ours is the overall responsibility for the territories under the military government, using our civil administration, their presence will not relieve us from our overall responsibility,” Rabin said.
Clinton and Rabin spoke warmly of each other’s efforts to further both the peace process and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.
Clinton said he had “reaffirmed” his commitment to work with Congress to maintain present U.S. levels of aid to Israel, which now receives $3 billion a year in U.S. aid.
“Since the beginning of this administration, the prime minister and I have worked to promote the common interests and values our nations share. Today we are working closely together on such issues, including those which are now before the U.N. Security Council,” Clinton said.
The Security Council has been considering a resolution condemning the Hebron attack and calling for greater security for Palestinians. It also includes language to which Israel has objected, referring to Jerusalem as occupied territory.
“I am profoundly aware, Mr. Prime Minister, of the great burdens you are bearing in your search for peace. You have the admiration and respect of the entire United States and our nation’s pledge of support and steadfast friendship,” Clinton said.
Rabin said that “the friendship and trust between our two countries are profound and are as good if not better than they have ever been. We could not ask for more.”
On the issue of the talks with the Palestinians, both leaders spoke of the importance of resuming the negotiations quickly and not allowing extremists opposed to the peace process to triumph.
Rabin condemned last month’s Hebron killings, adding that Israelis have also been victims of terrorism. “Security is a two-way street,” he said.
Rabin said that Israel was committed to the terms already laid down in the Madrid process and the Israeli-Palestinian declaration of prin ciples signed last September. These terms included saving certain issues, like the status of Jerusalem and the settlements for permanent-status negotiations, which will not take place until the third year of a five-year transitional period.
Such issues have come to the fore in the wake of the Hebron killings, with Palestinian leaders urging that they be discussed now and Israeli leaders disagreeing.
Concerning settlements, Rabin said that the Israeli-Palestinian agreement “said very clearly that the settlements remain there for the period, for the interim period. I am not saying it. It is written very clearly in the DOP.”
Clinton said that the matter was one that the parties themselves would have to decide. “And in accord with the declaration, it is something to be ultimately decided at a later point. That’s what we think should be done.”
The two leaders also commented on the other negotiating tracks between Israel and Lebanon, Jordan and, particularly, Syria.
Clinton said that both Rabin and Syrian President Assad had indicated to him a willingness to make peace. “Since I think both of them want to make peace with each other, the best thing for me to do is not to say anything which will make their task more difficult.”
Both Clinton and Rabin spoke out against the Arab economic boycott of Israel, saying that it should be ended soon.
And they said they did not discuss the case of Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. Navy analyst serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.
Clinton said that the recent case of accused spy for Russia Aldrich Ames “has not interfered” with the Pollard case “inasmuch as the Pollard case is already in the hands of the Justice Department” and “the White House is awaiting a recommendation from the Justice Department.”
During his visit to Washington, Rabin also met with Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Defense Secretary William Perry, and addressed the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.