Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Lobbying Shows Uncommon Subtlety

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Lobbying Shows Uncommon Subtlety

Article excerpt

Israeli Lobbying Shows Uncommon Subtlety

In the face of increasing reports that the Clinton administration was preparing to publicize the so-called American peacemaking package in an effort to step up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to revive the peace process, Israel launched a full-scale public relations and lobbying blitz in March and April reminiscent of its earlier efforts to halt aircraft sales to Saudi Arabia.

The outline of the administration package was presented to Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasser Arafat during their meetings with President Bill Clinton in January. At that time, Arafat said that he accepted the administration's approach, but he feared that Netanyahu would use it as a pretext for non-compliance with what had already been agreed to.

By mid-February, rumors began to circulate that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Martin Indyk were urging Clinton to go public with the plan, in an effort to restart negotiations. At that point, Israel cranked Up the machinery, and Netanyahu sent his foreign affairs adviser, Uzi Arad, to lobby key congressmen to quietly pressure Clinton not to go public with the plan.

The Israeli efforts apparently were successful. By the time Indyk met with the House International Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Middle East Subcommittee on March 10 and 11 (see separate article on the heatings), he was prepared to say, in response to specific questions from committee members in both the House and the Senate, that the administration had no plans to go public with its proposal.

However, the rumors persisted, and by late March Netanyahu stepped up the pressure. He spoke at length with Clinton by telephone on March 19 and 21, and he sent Israeli cabinet members and American Jewish leaders to Washington to tell anyone who would listen that the administration was on a collision course with Israel. Nevertheless, on March 26 The Washington Post reported that Clinton had decided in principle to go ahead and make the proposal public.

At this point, Netanyahu uncharacteristically shifted gears and moved from the typical Israeli sledgehammer approach to what can only be called a "good guy-bad guy" approach. The "bad guys" were all the usual suspects: Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Connie Mack (R-FL), Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Bill Paxon (R-NY), Steve Rothman (D-NJ), and Jim Saxton (R-NJ), B'nai B'rith, AIPAC, a majority of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and even a Zionist extremist group called the American Friends of Families Victims of Oslo.

UNWITTING PAWNS?

The "good guys," many of whom may have been unwitting pawns in this campaign by Israel and American friends of Israel, were Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Reps. Sam Gejdenson (D-CT), Lee Hamilton (D-IN), David Obey (D-WI), and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), plus a minority of the Conference of Presidents, especially Seymour Reich, president of the American Zionist movement.

On April 5 the "bad guys" swung into action with a very strong letter to Clinton, sponsored by Lieberman and Mack and signed by 81 senators. It claimed that Israel had kept the promises it made at Oslo, but that the Palestinians had not kept their security promises and that Arafat had refused to conclude negotiations on the remaining interim status issues. The letter urged Clinton not to go public with "a peace proposal which is known to be unacceptable to Israel."

At the same time, Engel, Paxon, Rothman and Saxton were circulating an almost identical letter in the House for signatures. (As of late April, however, the House letter still had not been sent, although more than 120 congressmen had signed it.)

Simultaneously, B'nai B'rith placed a large ad in The Washington Post and other newspapers congratulating the senators for their letter, and more than a two-thirds majority of the Conference of Presidents agreed to write to each of the 81 senators thanking them for the letter, and to Clinton thanking him for not going public with his proposal. …

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