Machlokes / Controversy
May 18, 1998 / 22 Iyar, 5758

Al Gore, the foreign affairs veep?

By Binyamin L. Jolkovsky

New York (JWR) --- Is Al Gore attempting to shore up his Jewish support for a 2000 presidential run by daring to stand up to Hillary over the issue of the Middle East peace process? Or should the administration add an additional moniker -- "the gang that can't spin straight" -- to the slew that it already has been given?

During a May 6 televised public appearance, First Lady Hillary Clinton declared the "importance" of a future Palestinian state, repeatedly using the word "state," a position never previously declared by any Administration official or White House resident. The White House afterwards characterized her comments as "off-the-cuff" and not representative of United States policy, but some analysts regard the incident as an unofficial signal to Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to demonstrate greater flexibility or risk losing American support.

"I think it will be in the long-term interests of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state,'' Mrs. Clinton said.

But speaking here last night (Sunday) at the annual dinner of the fervently Orthodox Jewish group, Agudath Israel of America, Mr. Gore received a standing ovation when he seemed to take direct aim at the Clinton administration's recent strong-arming of Israel and the co-president's recent remark about the need for a Palestinian state.

"Israel alone must decide the steps needed to implement its security," the veep declared in his trademark monotone. "The U.S. will not pre-judge Israel on any decision."

The United States government has made an Israeli pledge to withdraw from 13.1 percent of Gaza and the West Bank a precondition for inviting Mr. Netanyahu to Washington to sign an agreement with Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. The agreement would require Mr. Arafat to institute new security measures in the areas he controls. Mr. Arafat has already agreed to the American proposal, but Mr. Netanyahu has stated that a withdrawal from 9 percent is the most that Israel's security requirements will allow. Some reports state that he has privately discussed up to an 11 percent withdrawal, and further negotiation of the withdrawal proposal is now underway between representatives of the United States and Israel.

Some observers have criticized the United States for failing to honor a "note to the record" written by then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, which stated that Israel would be able to determine the scope of three "further redeployments" unilaterally. The Israeli government, by continuing to negotiate the withdrawal, has not insisted that this pledge be honored.

Mr. Gore, whose voting record makes him one of Israel's closest friends on Capitol Hill, and whose father, Albert Gore, Sr., used his political muscle to fight for Israel's independence, was one of the most vocal supporters of the Gulf War, having broken rank with many of his fellow Democrats.

"The United States has an absolute, uncompromising commitment to Israel's security," Mr. Gore assured the 3,000 members of the Orthodox Jewish civil and religious rights group. "If you believe there is any disagreement on the sacred bond between Israel and America... that there has been a weakening of that bond, let me say those bonds are firm and will always be firm. You should have no fear."

Israelis, Mr. Gore continued, "have a right to feel safe on their own streets and in their own homes."


Binyamin L. Jolkovsky is JWR's publisher and editor-in-chief.

©1998, Jewish World Review