Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Helms Backs off Cutting Israel Aid

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Helms Backs off Cutting Israel Aid

Article excerpt

Helms Backs Off Cutting Israel Aid

By Eugene Bird

The GOP earthquake in Washington has left all three sides in the Middle East peace process (Israel, the Arabs and the administration of Bill Clinton) puzzled. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), the likely chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, initially called for a review of all aid, including that given Israel. His staff even published a document called by State Department officers "Senator Jesse Helms' Ten Commandments," in which point nine stated that the "Camp David Agreement has cost from $80 billion to $100 billion dollars." But then it went on to attack Syria and never mentioned that most of that aid had gone to Israel.

In the end, Helms backed away entirely from mentioning Israel and the aid-word in the same document, setting up only two criteria for aid to be given to any country: Whether or not they voted with the U.S. at the United Nations and whether or not they had free market economies and could use aid in the private sector.

Then Helms proclaimed that Israel meets both criteria, in his opinion. Aid would flow at the $3 billion level promised in Camp David and no questions would be asked on what is being done with it in the settlements and what impact these disbursements will have on the final status of the territories.

Indyk Ambassadorial Appointment To Israel Out?

From a source close to the senator, there does seem to be one other Middle East agenda item on his calendar: Helms will adamantly refuse to approve the appointment of Dr. Martin Indyk as ambassador to Israel if the Clinton White House should finally surface this long-rumored nomination. Israeli sources have said that this would not be a cause for any problem with Tel Aviv, and the mercurial senator could change his mind, but the source did not think so.

On the issue of cutting U.S. aid, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Israeli press had a field day after the U.S. elections with reports of how worried they were about maintaining the American commitment for aid to Israel with the new GOP agenda on cutting all aid. Senator Helms was conveniently unavailable to meet with Prime Minister Rabin, but Senators Bob Dole (R-KS), Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY), and Bob Packwood (R-OR) all reassured the prime minister: Not to worry, Israeli aid would be provided by the new team in charge of Congress.

Fight Pending Over U.S. Troops for Golan

The president also gave reassurances, along with a peculiar message about how maybe, perhaps, but most likely, he would ask Congress for U.S. troops to patrol the Golan Heights as part of any Israeli disengagement agreement with Syria. Clinton said it was premature to do so, however, until there was an agreement. This issue will almost certainly surface as the number one crusade to stop any commitment of U.S. troops by Likud-oriented hard-liners in the American Jewish community who continue to dominate the Israel lobby. The cause of Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu is their cause.

And New York Times columnist William Safire gave a remarkable insight into rightwing Jewish-American thinking about both aid and troops on the Golan in describing a dinner he attended during the Israeli prime minister's post-election visit to the United States. At the dinner, in the presence of Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Rabin argued that he both needed and wanted U.S. troops on the Golan. Safire wrote in his Nov. 24 column, "Some reasons [we should not send troops] are: (1) The U.S. would then become `neutral' in the struggles between Israel and Syria, in lieu of continuing as Israel's ally--a State Department Arabist's evenhanded dream; (2) the U.S. troops would become targets of terrorist attempts to upset the peace process; (3) Israel's freedom of action would be compromised without pre-emptive action possible without U.S. permission; (4) America's admiration for Israelis as militarily self-reliant would be replaced by resentment about risking U. …

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