Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lobby Watch: Christopher Finds Israel's U.S. Lobby Tougher Than Israeli Government

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lobby Watch: Christopher Finds Israel's U.S. Lobby Tougher Than Israeli Government

Article excerpt

Lobby Watch: Christopher Finds Israel's U.S. Lobby Tougher than Israeli Government

"I reminded him that any deviation on policy, any deviation of that, would be of serious concern to the Jewish community. He assured me there was no change in policy. He made abundantly clear that any effort to prejudge the status of Jerusalem would be met with opposition from the U.S. government."

--Chairman Lester Pollack of the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, describing a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Warren Christopher during his Far East trip at 7 a.m. Tokyo time, March 11, 1994

Following some very low points toward the end of the Bush administration and after the return to power of a Labor government in Israel, Israel's American lobby is on a power trip in President Bill Clinton's Washington. As the U.S. heeded an alarm from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin not to veto passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution designed to get PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat back to the peace table, it was Likudists among America's Jewish establishment who seemed to be blocking the way.

The issue was the reference in the resolution to East Jerusalem as occupied territory. This has been standard U.S. diplomatic boilerplate, just as have been references to Jewish settlements in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem as "illegal and obstacles to peace," through the administrations of six Clinton predecessors, although Ronald Reagan confused matters by off-the- cuff statements that he personally didn't think the settlements were illegal. (Under any conceivable interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which the U.S. is a party, they are.)

Now the Clinton administration has gone vague about the settlements, and has taken to describing East Jerusalem as "disputed" rather than "occupied" territory whose final status is to be determined in negotiations based upon U.N. Security Council Resolution 242's land-for-peace formula.

All this is because Clinton administration Middle East policy starts and ends with keeping American friends of Israel (FOIs as America's weekly Jewish newspapers call them), who played pivotal media and funding roles in his 1992 presidential election campaign, aboard for the 1996 election. Most of these FOIs were strong supporters of the "not one inch of land for peace" policies of Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is well aware of this, and both hates and fears the Jewish Americans who undercut his political policies in the White House, but keep the sluice gates for U.S. aid to Israel open and in good repair. Rabin knows he needs the FOIs, but believes the Likudniks among them have more clout with the Clinton administration than he does.

Thus the extraordinary series of phone calls to and from the Far East during what was proving to be Christopher's most disastrous overseas trip to date. U.S. officials accompanying him joked, off the record, that Christopher was having more trouble with Israel and its fractious American friends than with the Japanese bashing him over trade, and the Chinese bashing him over human rights.

He was receiving late-night and early-morning calls from Israeli government officials begging the U.S. to save the "Gaza-Jericho first" plan solemnized last Sept. 13 on the White House lawn by relenting on the Jerusalem language in the U.N. Security Council resolution, and warnings against relenting from America's hard-line FOIs. In the end, diplomacy prevailed.

Said Pollack, "The consensus view among Jewish groups is that if the resolution facilitates the prompt resumption of negotiations, I think the community would accept the results, particularly with the assurances from the administration."

President Steven Grossman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is undergoing a smiley-face metamorphosis to put it more in tune with Rabin while trying not to cut ties to its big-money, pro-Likud past presidents, was even more conciliatory. …

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