Al Gore Supports Israeli Withdrawals and No Building (or US Embassy) in Jerusalem, and Don't Even Ask about Jonathan Pollard

S.L. Rosenbluth, Editor Jewish Voice and Opinion, New Jersey - May 1998 Edition

April should have been a good month for relations between Vice President Al Gore and supporters of Israel. But instead of being able to coast on hill of good feelings and vague, overall support for the state of Israel (capped off by a visit to the Jewish state to celebrate it's 50th anniversary), the vice president found himself in the middle of tough policy questions, and, for many supporters of Israel, his responses were not good enough, especially for a soon-to-be candidate for President.

At the end of March, Mr. Gore found himself addressing 3,500 delegates to the UJA's Young Leadership Conference in Washington. In that setting, Israeli Minister of Communications Limor Livnat directly challenged the vice president to support actively the American law passed almost unanimously by Congress requiring the US to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Seemingly emboldened, Ms. Livnat then asked the vice president if the US intended to stand by its commitment, recorded in the Note for the Record of the Hebron Accord, that only Israel will decide about her security needs?


Her statements were clear challenges to the Clinton administration that has vowed to prevent the embassy from moving to Jerusalem and is actively seeking to compel Israel to withdraw from more territory than its leaders believe is prudent. While some observers said the statements showed an Israel that was preparing to confront the American administration, others said Ms. Livnat spoke out of a sense of frustration. There was no intent to hurt, said Ayala Bar, a spokeswoman for Ms. Livnat.

A US Interest

If Mr. Gore was insulted, he did not show it to the participants of the conference. But he also did not answer Ms. Livnats challenges. No one should ever doubt that the US has any more vital interest than the survival of a free, democratic, state of Israel, said Mr. Gore. He then delineated the administrations four-point plan for Israel and the Palestinians, which calls for, among other things, further redeployments, and a time out on unilateral steps that are unproductive.

Unilateral steps has become a code-word for Israel's allowing the settlements in Judea and Samaria to expand and for continuing to build in Jerusalem.

Writers for The Forward asked Mr. Gores foreign policy spokesman, Jonathan Spalter, about the vice president's response to Ms. Livnat's demand that the American Embassy be moved to Jerusalem. His response made it clear that a Gore Administration would be no better on this issue than is Mr. Clinton's. "We've been rather clear about American policy with regard to recognizing Jerusalem as the capital. We've said this is an issue under negotiation by the parties. It is for the parties to negotiate", said Mr. Spalter.

Rudy's Not a Stooge

A day after Mr. Gore's appearance, the Young Leadership group was addressed by New York's Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who unabashedly referred to Yasir Arafat, whom he banned from a 50th anniversary concert for the UN three years ago, as a terrorist. You cannot romanticize a terrorist, said Mr. Giuliani, who some observers say may find himself on the ticket opposite Mr. Gore in the year 2000.

Mr. Gore's adherence to a policy which many see as tilting away from support for Israel, prompted Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) to compare Messrs. Clinton and Gore and UN Secretary General Kofi Anan to the comedy team known as The Three Stooges.

"The Three Stooges are at in again, offering Arafat a free ride while squeezing the Middle Easts only democracy, "said Mr. Salmon in a press release." I expect as much from the UN, but not from the White House. I often say that Bill Clinton and Al Gore come from the blame-Israel-first school. It now appears they believe in blaming Israel first, last, and everywhere in between."

Near Disaster

The vice president's trip to Israel should have presented the opportunity to make amends for any bad feelings. Instead, it almost became a diplomatic disaster not dissimilar from the one caused by British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in March.

Mr. Gore had planned to spend two days in Israel participating in Jubilee celebrations. Afterwards, he was scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia for talks with a representative of the royal family and to review US troops stationed there. From Saudi Arabia, he was scheduled to continue on to Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and to convene a US-Egyptian economic conference.

Before even leaving Washington, Mr. Gore managed to infuriate senior Israeli government officials with what they termed his blatant insensitivity. The officials said the vice president disregarded their requests and announced his plans to meet with Yasir Arafat in Ramallah during his stay in Israel.

An Insult

In so doing, the Israelis said, Mr. Gore turned what was to be a diplomatic salute to Israel into an insult. A large anti-Israel demonstration had been planned for Mr. Gores visit to Ramallah, intensifying the sense of an American insult.

In response, many Israelis planned to attend the giant rally on Har Homa, scheduled for April 28, when Mr. Gore would be in the country. Those attending the rally intended to demand that the long-promised construction on the site begin there at once. The Arabs maintain that, by building in Jerusalem, the Israelis are Judaizing the city. Israelis say they have the right to build in their nations capital. The Clinton administration has sided with the Palestinians.

Because of Mr. Gores decision to visit Ramallah, the Har Homa rally began to turn into an anti-Gore demonstration as well.

Changing Plans

Gore is coming as the guest of the state of Israel, for its 50th anniversary celebrations, and yet, at the recommendation of his advisors, who wish to humiliate the state of Israel, he plans to meet with Arafat in Ramallah. This is a slap in the face of Israel, said Yaakov Katz, known ubiquitously as Ketzele. A Yesha leader, Mr. Katz served as one of the events organizers.

The day before his departure for the Middle East, Mr. Gore, in an apparent reaction to the widespread, growing anger among American-Jewish leaders, changed his schedule. He announced he would no longer be meeting with Mr. Arafat just hours after taking part in Israel's Independence Day festivities. A revised schedule had the vice president meet Mr. Arafat in Ramallah on Saturday, April 30, on his way from Saudi Arabia to Cairo.

It was unclear if Mr. Gore will be joining President Clinton in May for the Arab-American National Leadership Conference. According to materials sent out by the organizers, Mr. Clinton's appearance for them will mark the first time the President has addressed an Arab-American conference.

Could Have Been a Hero

Some observers say Mr. Gore could have made himself a hero in Israel if he had only take the advice of Israel's Minister of Industry and Trade, Natan Sharansky, who met with the vice president in Washington in March. Mr. Sharansky pleaded with Mr. Gore to lend his support to the efforts to have Jonathan Pollard released from prison.

While it is not known what Mr. Gore told the former Soviet prisoner of conscience, there is no evidence that the vice president has become more inclined to help the former Navy intelligence specialist who is currently serving his 13th year of a life sentence for having spied for Israel.

This past year, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon raised the issue of Mr. Pollard's release during meetings with Mr. Gore.

On Airforce Two

According to an article by Seth Gitell in the Forward, Israel's Minister of Absorption, Yuli Edelstein, who spent 3 years in a Soviet gulag, suggested that Mr. Gore bring Mr. Pollard to the Jewish state in Air Force Two.

Mr. Pollard is regarded very favorably in Israel, and has recently attracted the support of virtually the entire Israeli government. Mr. Edelstein visited Mr. Pollard in prison in Butner, North Carolina, last November. Since then, Mr. Pollard has been visited by Israel's Finance Minister Yaakov Neeman and by Ms. Livnat. Israel's former Sephardic chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, sent a letter of support to Mr. Pollard and another to Mr. Clinton, asking for the prisoners release on humanitarian grounds.

With this kind of consensus in Israel, with Gore, if he wanted to make a big gesture with the 50th anniversary, this would have been one of the best possibilities, Mr. Edelstein told Mr. Gitell.

Mr. Pollard's supporters who have written to Mr. Gore asking for his help in gaining his release have been disappointed. The vice president sends out a form letter, almost identical to the one sent by the White House, saying, in effect, "no".