The Decline of the Soviet Union and the Transformation of the Middle East

By David H. Goldberg; Paul Marantz | Go to book overview

Conclusions

An examination of the issue of Soviet Jewish emigration during the third period of high emigration ( 1989-91) reveals that, just as in the earlier two periods of high emigration ( 1971-73 and 1978-79), foreign policy considerations appear to be the primary Soviet motivations. Unlike the earlier two periods, however, the foreign policy motivation did not have an exclusive U.S. focus. Instead, particularly in 1987 when Gorbachev's "new thinking" began to be reflected in Soviet foreign policy activity, emigration was used by the Soviet leader in part as a device to try to improve relations with Israel, so as to gain Israeli support for the international peace conference Moscow wanted.

Gorbachev, a much more flexible leader than his predecessors, began to increase Jewish immigration in 1987, in part to strengthen the political position of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres who, like Gorbachev, shared the goal of convening an international conference on the Middle East. Even when Peres' efforts proved futile, Gorbachev continued to increase emigration, and he moved to improve other aspects of Soviet-Israeli relations as well in the 1987-91 period not only because he continued to hope Israel could be maneuvered toward an international conference--something finally achieved in October 1991--but also because he wanted to influence public opinion in the United States.

Following the C.P.S.U. party conference in February 1986, with his position in the Party reinforced, Gorbachev set about to undertake major economic and political reforms in the U.S.S.R. To succeed in his reform program, however, particularly at a time of declining hard currency earnings due to the drop in oil prices, Gorbachev clearly wanted to slow down the arms race to free resources for Moscow's lagging economy. He was also interested in getting credits from the United States (as well as investments in joint enterprises), and this necessitated changes in the Jackson-Vanik and Stevenson amendments. Given the fact that Moscow had long over-estimated Jewish influence in the United States and that it understood the close tie between American Jewry and the State of Israel, the change in Soviet policy toward Israel (which included in the 1987-1991 period the exchange of consular delegations and finally full diplomatic relations; a large number of cultural and athletic exchanges; the rapid development of trade; and the increased exodus of Soviet Jews and the release of prominent refuseniks like Anatoly Sharansky) seemed aimed at improving the Soviet image in the United States for arms control purposes and positioning Moscow for U.S. trade benefits.

The very fact that Morris Abram, the President of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, was invited to Moscow, and that the American Jewish leader indicated a willingness to support changes in the Jackson-Vanik and

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