Vice President Al Gore wrapped up a tour of the Middle East last week with pledges of support for Israel and continued U.S. funding for the financially ailing Palestinian Authority.
During a visit to Israel on March 23, Gore met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to discuss the state of the stalled Israel-Palestinian negotiations.
Rabin told the vice president that implementation of the next phase of Palestinian self-rule would depend on Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat’s ability to curb attacks on Israelis by Palestinian rejectionist groups opposed to the peace process.
Israel and the PLO have set July 1 as a target date for reaching agreement on holding Palestinian elections and for withdrawing Israelis troops from Arab population centers in the West Bank.
During a speech at Jerusalem’s The Hebrew University, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate in philosophy, Gore voiced the Clinton administration’s determination to continue granting Israel $3 billion in annual aid.
“President Clinton is committed to maintaining the present levels of military and economic assistance to Israel,” Gore said.
Economic aid topped the vice president’s agenda when he met the next day with Arafat in the West Bank Jericho enclave.
Gore told Arafat that the United States would live up to its commitment to provide the Palestinian Authority with $500 million in economic aid through 1998. He said $150 million of that total would be distributed by September.
At a ceremony at Jericho’s City Hall, Gore presented Arafat with two grants of $4 million each. The grants, designated to improve living conditions in the Gaza Strip, are to be used to pave roads and fix refugee camp shacks in Gaza.
Gore also announced President Clinton’s decision to allow goods imported from the Palestinian autonomous zones to be imported to the United States without being subject to American tariffs. A similar announcement, timed to coincide with Gore’s meeting with Arafat, was also issued from the White House last Friday.
American officials, not wanting Gore to be seen posing near a Palestinian flag, had requested that the ceremony at the Jericho City Hall be held without flags or anthems.
They also had a picture of eastern Jerusalem removed from the stage to avoid any suggestion that the United States supported the Palestinian goal of establishing that portion of the city as the capital of an eventual Palestinian state.
During a meeting with Arafat, Gore praised the PLO leader’s decision to set up a special military court to try those attempting to undermine the peace process.
Arafat, in turn, urged the United States to put pressure on Israel to extend Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank.
Arafat reportedly sought to hold the meeting in Jericho to highlight his demand for a speedy extension of Palestinian self-rule to the West Bank. The PLO leader had originally planned to establish his headquarters in Jericho, but he chose Gaza instead when Palestinian autonomy was launched last May.
Gore was accompanied by his wife, Tipper, during his trip to the Middle East, which included stops in Egypt, Jordan and Oman.
Gore’s trip to the region was intended to build economic cooperation among the states of the Middle East.
But along the way, Gore had also been urging continued U.N. sanctions against Iraq and had been lobbying Arab countries not to demand that Israel sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when it comes up renewal next month.
Gore’s urgings on the nuclear issue bore fruit on March 22, when the 22-member Arab League approved a resolution calling for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, but rejected in Egyptian draft calling on Israel to sign the NPT.
The league’s ministers agreed on the resolution after three hours of debate at the meeting, which marked the 50th anniversary of the league’s inception.
Egypt had been lobbying other Arab states not to sign the NPT unless Israel does the same. Israel, which is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, has maintained that it will not sign the treaty until there is comprehensive peace in the region.
According to diplomatic observers, the decision to drop the Egyptian stance from the resolution came as the result of lobbying from the Persian Gulf states, which had come under recent American pressure not to back Egypt’s proposal.
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.