LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 (JTA) Would a President Al Gore continue his predecessor’s commitment to forging peace in the Middle East?
While critics of the current administration accuse President Clinton of being too anxious to conclude an Israeli-Palestinian deal to seal his own political legacy, most peace advocates praise his persistent efforts to do all he can to end the century-old conflict in the region.
By all accounts, Gore has been integrally involved in these efforts, which were launched early in the Clinton administration with the historic 1993 handshake on the White House lawn between former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
“No vice president in history has been as involved as Al Gore in foreign policy in general, and the pursuit of peace in the Middle East in particular,” said Mel Levine, a former U.S. congressman from California and co-chair of Gore’s Middle East advisory committee.
“Al Gore won’t need any on-the-job training,” Levine said, adding that Gore has a clear grasp of the problems in the Middle East and an absolute commitment to Israel’s security.
It is not clear what role his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Jewish lawmaker with strong views on the Middle East, would play in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the region.
Thanks to his long experience not only as vice president but also as senator and congressman, Gore enjoys the confidence and respect of the current Israeli government as well as of its opposition leaders, Levine said.
Middle East analyst Shibley Telhami said there would be no significant differences between a Clinton administration and a Gore administration.
“A Gore administration would be good for both Israel and the Arabs,” said Telhami, who holds the Anwar Sadat Chair for Population, Development and Peace at the University of Maryland. Should an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians be reached, he said, a Gore administration would place the same priority on its implementation as does Clinton’s.
Some analysts believe that Clinton’s personal engagement in the peace process might not transfer to the Gore administration.
There could be a slight difference in style, but the policy would essentially be the same, said Michael Sonnenfeldt, chair of the Israel Policy Forum, which helps to promote the peace process.
“Continuation would be the overwhelming theme,” he said.
Sonnenfeldt expects that Gore would maintain an “even-handed” approach to the peace process so America could continue to play a credible role as peace broker.
On the perennial question of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Levine said that Gore would defer to the Israeli government in deciding when such a move should be made.
The Democratic platform itself speaks of Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel and should remain as an undivided city accessible to all faiths.”
Levine’s evaluation was confirmed by Lonny Kaplan, national chairman of the board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.
“I’ve discussed the Middle East situation with Al Gore many times over the last 20 years,” said Kaplan, whose friendship with Gore reaches back to their student days at Harvard.
“He has a long history of supporting the peace process and the security of Israel,” said Kaplan. “He accepts that the United States has a responsibility toward Israel, including a guarantee of large financial aid as the binding glue between the two sides.”
Gore’s votes as a legislator have traditionally been supportive of the U.S.-Israel relationship, said Kaplan. He was one of only 10 Democratic senators which also included his running mate, Joseph Lieberman who supported President Bush’s use of force against Sadam Hussein during the Gulf War.
One of Gore’s closest Jewish aides for decades has been Leon Fuerth, slated to be named national security adviser if the Democrats win.
Fuerth gave a precise analysis of Gore’s likely policies at a private gathering, requesting the only reporter present to keep his remarks off the record.
However, regarding Gore’s general modus operandi, Fuerth cited the concept of “forward engagement,” which calls for spotting likely problems well in advance and dealing with them before the problem reaches crisis proportions.
University of Maryland’s Telhami said this approach means that Gore’s foreign policy team would take a somewhat broader perspective on the Middle East in formulating policy looking at how issues such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the tensions in Iraq are linked.
(JTA Washington correspondent Sharon Samber contributed to this report.)