WASHINGTON -- The United States, deepening its direct role in Mideast peace, plans to kick in part of the several hundred million dollars Israel will spend to redeploy troops in the occupied territories and offer U.S. forces to secure an eventual Israeli-Syrian deal, officials said yesterday.
The broadened U.S. commitment is aimed at making the Israeli public secure enough to move beyond its interim agreement on Palestinian self-rule and absorb additional risks for a comprehensive peace with all its immediate Arab neighbors.
The disclosures came as the White House detailed final plans for today's signing of the historic framework pact between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that promises to replace three decades of bitterness with a peaceful partnership on shared land.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who arrives early this morning to join PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at the signing, told U.S. television networks yesterday that his country plans to spend "several hundred million dollars in moving our forces, headquarters, from the present places to other places, to build new roads. . . .
"And we are ready to spend for peace," he added.
Israel plans to withdraw forces from much of the Gaza Strip and from the West Bank town of Jericho as part of a phased redeployment that eventually will have Israeli troops in the territories manning just the border with Jordan, Jewish settlements and the southern part of Gaza. Israel will retain overall authority over security of Israel and the territories combined.
A senior U.S. official told The Sun later that "There have been assurances [to Israel] that we would be of assistance." While indicating that the specific sums had not been worked out, the official said the United States "would not defray the entire amount."
Mr. Rabin stressed that the American aid had not been set by Israel as a condition for signing the accord, but Edward Djerejian, assistant secretary of state for the Near East, said in a television interview: "The United States obviously will stand behind Israel's security as Israel takes these very brave and courageous challenges to make peace."
This pledge will run into difficulty in Congress, where opposition is building to foreign aid generally.
No new money
A skeptical-sounding Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who oversees foreign aid appropriations, said there is no money to offer new sums to Israel, adding: "Prime Minister Rabin is absolutely correct when he said that they will need help but that also they're going to go ahead with the peace agreement with or without help."
But Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, the Indiana Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Congress would probably take money from other foreign aid to bolster the Israeli-PLO agreement.
Separately, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, seeking a breakthrough in slow-moving negotiations between Israel and Syria, made the most explicit offer yet to send U.S. forces to the Golan Heights to help guarantee any settlement. Syria lost the Golan Heights in the 1967 Mideast war and is determined to regain them.
Mr. Christopher compared the offer with the United States forces securing Israel's disengagement from Egypt's Sinai peninsula as part of the 1978 Camp David agreement.
Citing America's "bedrock" commitment to Israeli security, he said: "it might well mean some kind of United States forces in the Golan, just as we've long provided forces in the Sinai to try to ensure -- help ensure the security of Israel."
Asked if "you are prepared and you recognize that that might have to be a part of any future agreement, [with] the presence of U.S. forces in the Golan," Mr. Christopher replied: "Absolutely."
The Clinton administration has already pledged to assume the lead in rounding up the billions of dollars that could be needed to implement the Israel-PLO accord, including large sums to build an infrastructure in the Palestinian areas. But U.S. officials have sought to downplay the amount needed from the United States.
Now, having won pledges of help from Japan, Europe and the TTC oil-rich Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, the administration is seeking to reassure Israel that its own aid package not only will be maintained but will receive an added boost. The United States already provides about $4 billion a year to Israel and at least $2 billion more to Egypt, the only Arab country to make peace with the Jewish state.
Tough talks ahead
This expected increase is part of an effort to ensure a smooth transition to the difficult period ahead when the future of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem are negotiated.
Both sides have taken hard lines. While Mr. Arafat has said the Palestinian flag will fly over East Jerusalem, Mr. Rabin retorted yesterday that a united Jerusalem will remain Israel's capital forever, and added: "He can forget about it."
In negotiations with Syria, Mr. Rabin stressed that Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights is just one issue blocking a breakthrough. Israel also wants a clear definition of the kind of peace Syria envisions, and wants Syria to ensure that the Lebanese army assumes control of southern Lebanon and disarms the Hezbollah guerrillas who have attacked Israel and Israeli soldiers.
As co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process, the United States and Russia are pledged to guarantee a final settlement. ++ Mr. Christopher and his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev, will sign today's interim accord as witnesses, not guarantors.
U.S. and Israeli officials said the actual signing of today's agreement will be done by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who oversaw secret negotiations in Norway, and Mahmoud Abbas, a PLO executive committee member who is also known as Abu Mazen.
"I . . . am hopeful that this will lead to peace," Mr. Arafat declared yesterday after arriving yesterday afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base.
As he left Israel for Washington, Mr. Rabin said of the accord: "I am behind it full-heartedly, knowing the chances, the prospects, at the same time the difficulties and the dangers in which we embark."
When asked in a CNN interview if he would shake Mr. Arafat's hand, Mr. Rabin grudgingly replied: "If it will be needed." Mr. Christopher's was more positive: "This is going to be a monumental occasion and I expect everyone present will act as statesmen."
The signing ceremony will have 3,000 guests. It is a delicate balance between rewarding the PLO and Mr. Arafat for making peace and keeping a certain diplomatic distance.
Following arrivals at about 10 a.m. at the North Portico of the White House, President Clinton will host a Blue Room meeting of all participants, including: Mr. Rabin, Mr. Arafat, Mr. Peres, Mr. Mazen, Mr. Christopher, Mr. Kozyrev, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and Norwegian Foreign Minister Holst, Vice President Gore and former Presidents George Bush and Jimmy Carter.
Three-minute speeches will be given at the ceremony by, in order: Mr. Clinton, Mr. Peres, Mr. Abbas, Mr. Christopher, Mr. Kozyrev, Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat, with the president then making a closing statement.
An administration official said he expected the Palestinians to speak in Arabic and the rest in English.
At the end, Mr. Clinton will move down from the dais to greet the former presidents and other dignitaries, and then take Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat to the diplomatic reception area to bid them farewell.
Afterward, Mr. Christopher will host a lunch for the 10 foreign ministers present and Mr. Clinton will meet with Mr. Rabin and Mr. Peres.
A senior official said the president will not hold a separate one-on-one meeting with Mr. Arafat, reflecting the fact that Israel is a an ally of long standing and the PLO has not even been formally recognized yet by the United States.
Mr. Arafat will meet with Mr. Christopher at the State Department this afternoon. Separate meetings will be held between the secretary and Mr. Peres and Mr. Kozyrev.
The Israelis bowed out of sharing a White House meal with the Palestinians, explaining that they would have to return home early tonight to prepare for a coming session of parliament, an administration official said.