During a five-day swing through Egypt, SaudiArabia, Israel and the West Bank, Gore adroitly positioned himself asa player in the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, they say --but not too muchof a player.
"It was the best of all worlds for him," said aleading Jewish Democrat this week. "He got to portray himself as anegotiator without doing the risky things negotiators have to do,especially in Israeli-Palestinian talks."
Throughout his visit, Gore insisted that he was"not a negotiator." Instead, his role was to reinforce relations withthe principals in the Israeli-Palestinian drama, and especially PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose relationship with PresidentClinton has been stormy -- and could get stormier after this week'sLondon negotiation sessions, which ended on an ambiguous note.
Gore's unscheduled, late-night airport meetingwith Netanyahu and his emotional words at ceremonies marking Israel's50th anniversary had a big impact on the Israelis, said MalcolmHoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents ofMajor Jewish Organizations, who was with the vice president duringsome of his Israel visit.
"He charmed the people of Israel with his styleand his Hebrew and his warmth," Hoenlein said. "His role was tore-establish the personal chemistry in the relationship. Ithink he did that."
And that could produce both diplomatic andpolitical dividends.
"There >have been concerns about theimpression of American pressure," Hoenlein said. "The vice presidenthelped alleviate that and dispelled some of the fears about where theUnited States is. That could help the negotiations."
Politically, "it was an extraordinaryperformance," said presidential historian Allan Lichtman, of AmericanUniversity. "It's the best we've seen from him. He comes out of thisa major player on a vital and sensitive issue."
Gore, he said, won stature with Americans ingeneral by appearing diplomatic-without losing points with Jews, avital constituency in his expensive quest to win the Democraticpresidential nomination in two years.
Other observers noted that Gore's Mideast missionboosted his presidential prospects by demonstrating a level ofinvolvement in high-level policy unusual for vice presidents.
"He set himself up to win no matter whathappened," Lichtman said.
"It was very good politics."
Vice President Al Gore with Israeli PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Israel at 50 festivities inJerusalem. Photo by Peter Halmagyi
Clinton Honors Israel
By James D. Besser,Washington Correspondent
Did the White House reception marking Israel's50th birthday last week provide any clues about how the Clintonadministration plans to proceed with its latest Mideast peace processrescue effort?
Maybe, according to several who witnessedPresident Bill Clinton's legendary shmoozing skills up close.
"It was very reassuring," said Rep. Ben Cardin(D-Md.), who joined Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and about 400Jewish bigwigs on the White House lawn and, later, inside theexecutive mansion. "The president made it very clear he was speakingas a friend. I came away convinced there would be none of thepressure on Israel that some of us have been concerned about."
Clinton told the crowd that "as a Christian, I donot know how God, if He were to come to Earth, would divide the landover which there is dispute now. I suspect neither does anyone elsein this audience."
That, Rep. Cardin said, was another signal thatthe administration does not plan to "force Israel to make anyconcessions that will compromise its security."
Administration insiders continue to report intensefrustration over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's approach to thestalled talks, but Clinton went out of his way to seek a personalconnection with the Israeli leader.
In speaking about the pioneers who created amodern, secure Israel, he referred to "the valor of citizen soldiersand military and political leaders like Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan,Yonni Netanyahu."
That was a reference to the prime minister'sbrother, Jonathan, the only Israeli officer killed in the 1976hostage rescue mission at Entebbe.
"There was a very deliberate effort made toexpress warmth, not just to Israel and its people but to thegovernment and to Mr. Netanyahu," said a longtime pro-Israel leaderwho attended.
Clinton, awarded an honorary degree at the eventby Hebrew University, said that he accepted the honor "on behalf ofmy predecessors, beginning with Harry Truman -- nine Americanpresidents, all devoted to Israel's security and freedom, allcommitted to peace in the Middle East. I accept it on behalf of theAmerican people who have formed not just an alliance, but a profoundfriendship with the people of Israel over these last 50years."
Jewish leaders were impressed.
"It was an effective program and it was conductedon the level of state to state, rather than government togovernment," said Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the JewishTheological Seminary and one of the religious leaders featured in theceremony. "It transcended the tensions of the moment. The presidentwas at his very best, and gave lots of reassurance as to theunbreakable character of the friendship, which is more than analliance."