WASHINGTON - Responding to charges from George W. Bush, Al Gore told a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group yesterday that he has fought U.S. attempts to bully Israel in the past - including one by Bush's father - and would continue to do so as president.
A day earlier, Bush accused the Clinton-Gore administration in an address to the same organization of interfering in Israel's domestic politics and foreign policy.
"I stood against the efforts of two previous administrations to pressure Israel to take stands against its own view of what was in Israel's best interests," the vice president said in a speech to the American Israel Political Affairs Committee.
"When a friend's survival is potentially at stake, you don't pressure that friend to take steps that it believes are clearly contrary to what is in that friend's best interest."
Gore recalled a 1991 incident in which President George Bush, father of the this year's presumed Republican presidential nominee, temporarily withheld $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to try to lure Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir into peace talks with the Palestinians.
"I vividly remember standing up against a group of administration foreign policy advisers who promoted the insulting concept of linkage, which tried to use loan guarantees as a stick to bully Israel," said Gore, the expected Democratic presidential candidate. "I stood with you, and together we defeated them."
On Monday the younger Bush accused the Clinton administration of making Israel "conform to its own plans and timetables," citing as an example, "the administration's attempt to take sides in the most recent Israeli election."
Clinton has been perceived by many as favoring Israel's more-dovish Labor Party over the conservative Likud Party in Israel's two most recent national elections. For example, last year three close Clinton associates - James Carville, Robert Shrum and Stanley Greenberg - advised Labor's Ehud Barak in his victory over Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu.
A spokeswoman said Bush would have no comment yesterday on Gore's speech to AIPAC.
Israel is the biggest beneficiary of U.S. foreign aid, having received tens of billions of dollars over the years. Foreign affairs analysts say it's routine for Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington to tie overseas aid to courses of action by recipients. But Israel viewed former President Bush's delay of the 1991 loan guarantees as especially coercive.
Yesterday, Gore declined to match Bush in telling AIPAC, which is widely deemed the strongest pro-Israel lobby in Washington, that he would support moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Clinton administration has opposed such a move, saying that it would disrupt the peace process by implicitly endorsing Israel's claim to Jerusalem over that of the Palestinians.
Gore chided the Palestinians for not doing more in recent months to promote peace.
"The negotiations cannot be a one-way street," Gore said. "The Palestinians, too, must recognize that they will not get all that they want. It is the responsibility of Yasser Arafat and all of the Palestinian leadership ... to prevent those who would resort to violence from disrupting the peace process at this extraordinarily delicate and difficult time. This is a test for them."
In recent days Israeli-Palestinian talks have broken down over renewed violence in Palestinian enclaves on the West Bank and over Israel's delay in turning over new land to Palestinian rule.
Gore criticized Iran's trial of 13 Iranian Jews on charges of spying, saying, "we utterly and absolutely condemn these show trials as immoral and illegal abuse of basic human rights."
But he also counseled Israel to make new efforts to reach out to its Islamic neighbors to foster cooperation on water rights, environmental quality and other issues.
"Forging the right kind of relationship with the Islamic world is a major challenge for the United States and Israel in the coming years," Gore said. "We know it will not be easy, but we will do it. And in the process, we will advance and strengthen peace in the Middle East and the security of Israel."