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'America Will Stand With You,' Clinton Reassures Israelis

October 28, 1994|DAVID LAUTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Israel must not "give in to the doubts that terror brings," President Clinton exhorted Thursday as he pledged to the Israeli people that "your journey is our journey, and America will stand with you now and always."

Speaking to the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, Clinton was continuing an 18-month effort to minister to the Israeli psyche--telling a nation scarred by recent acts of terror that peace has begun to yield true benefits and that the final goal has come within sight.

"Once in this area, you were shunned," Clinton said. "Now, more and more you are embraced." Israelis, he said, have begun to see "that they can free themselves from siege."

Watched from the visitors' gallery by the parents of Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman, who was kidnaped earlier this month by extremists and killed in an unsuccessful rescue attempt, Clinton said Americans share Israel's grief over its losses. But achieving a stable peace, he said, is the best way to put an end to such attacks.

"After all the bloodshed and all your tears, you are now far closer to the day when the clash of arms is heard no more and all the children of Abraham--the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael--will live side by side in peace," Clinton said. "It is the promise of making sure that all those who have sacrificed their lives did not die in vain."

The goal of the terrorists, Clinton said, "is to make the people of Israel, who have defeated all odds on the field of battle, to give up . . . on the peace by giving in to the doubts that terror brings to every one of us. But having come so far, you cannot give up or give in."

And in a final, highly personal fillip, Clinton recounted to his listeners how his onetime pastor, a mentor now dead, had enjoined him to stand by Israel.

Thirteen years ago, he said, he and Mrs. Clinton visited Jerusalem's holy sites with their pastor as part of a religious mission. A few years later, "when he became desperately ill, he said he thought I might one day become President." At that point, Clinton recounted, his friend and teacher told him, " 'If you abandon Israel, God will never forgive you.' He said it is God's will that Israel, the biblical home of the people of Israel, continue for ever and ever."

Clinton's emotional and largely extemporaneous speech was the latest effort in a campaign that he began early in his presidency after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

At the meeting, as Clinton has recounted since, Rabin pledged that he would "take risks for peace." Clinton, in turn, asked what steps the United States could best take to help the process of peace. The Israeli leader urged the President to use his office to reassure Israelis, who face a series of deeply unsettling decisions about relinquishing land in return for promises of peace from neighboring Arab states.

Those doubts within Israel have deepened of late, both because the nation now faces the extremely divisive issue of whether to relinquish the long-occupied Golan Heights to Syria--something that Rabin had previously pledged not to do--and because of recent, dramatic terrorist acts.

Clinton saw that division on clear display before his speech, as Rabin and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu both delivered long talks outlining their contrasting positions on the question of trading land for peace.

Netanyahu, whose Likud bloc opposes trading away any of the territory now under Israel's control, sharply attacked any suggestion that international forces on the Golan, perhaps including Americans, could adequately provide for Israel's security if the land were returned to Syria.

"Only Israeli forces on the Golan can protect Israel," Netanyahu declared.

And he broke off from his Hebrew text to speak in English as he chided Clinton for not accepting Israel's position that Jerusalem must remain, undivided, under Israeli control. Jerusalem "is a united city under Israeli sovereignty, and it will always be so," Netanyahu declared. Clinton, like his predecessors in the White House, has taken the position that the final status of Jerusalem should be determined as part of an overall settlement of all issues between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Clinton's mission of reassurance over the past 1 1/2 years has suited him, given his deep beliefs both in the power of words and in the importance of psychological factors in human affairs. Ever since Rabin talked to him about the issue, the President has taken repeated opportunities--interviews on Israeli television, public speeches and other occasions--to repeat the basic message that Israel does not stand alone and that Israelis can now afford to drop their long-ingrained siege mentality.

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