Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

THE SHATTERED PEACE: Netanyahu Visit Embarrasses Even Israel's Most Ardent Supporters

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

THE SHATTERED PEACE: Netanyahu Visit Embarrasses Even Israel's Most Ardent Supporters

Article excerpt

THE SHATTERED PEACE: Netanyahu Visit Embarrasses Even Israel's Most Ardent Supporters

Americans knew that Binyamin Netanyahu's three-day Washington, DC visit had turned into a public relations disaster on its second day, Jan. 20, when the two hosts on CNN's popular nightly "Crossfire" program, arch-conservative Pat Buchanan and arch-liberal Bill Press, began competing to see who could be most critical of the intransigent Israeli prime minister. They started by goading guest Zbigniew Brzezinski, the super-sharp White House national security adviser during the administration of former President Jimmy Carter, into reluctantly blaming Netanyahu for the breakdown in land-for-peace negotiations with Yasser Arafat.

By the time the half-hour television program had finished, Brzezinski had declared that the Palestinians had the right to an independent (but demilitarized) state "like everyone else" and suggested that the U.S. should stop vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli settlements; Republican Buchanan had charged that President Bill Clinton was "too weak" to challenge the cocky Israeli prime minister and his American Jewish supporters; and Democrat Press, a diehard Clinton apologist, expressed near certainty that Clinton was confronting Netanyahu in their private talks because the alternative would be the end of the peace process -- which he described as a disaster for the Palestinians, the United States and Israel. (Subsequent accounts indicate Buchanan was right and Press was wrong.)

Clearly, in publicly taking on the U.S. president in his own capital, Netanyahu was increasing Israel's international isolation, but perhaps strengthening his standing with his own right-wing political base in Israel. Aside from the temporary crumbling of U.S. media taboos against criticizing incumbent Israeli governments, Netanyahu's actions upon arrival in Washington also were unprecedented. He went directly from the airport to a rally in support of Israel organized by Morton Klein, hard-line president of the Zionist Organization of America, and Christian fundamentalist leader Jerry Falwell, founder of the now quiescent "Moral Majority." Falwell, who travels in a private aircraft presented to him by the Israeli government, has become a sulphurous Clinton critic. In fact, Falwell sells for $30 a videotape called "The Clinton Files" which actually accuses the U.S. president of being a drug user and having been implicated in drug dealing and murders in Arkansas while he was serving as governor there before he was elected president.

Before meeting with Clinton, Netanyahu also granted a radio interview to Christian fundamentalist television evangelist Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, and visited Republican House of Representatives leader Newt Gingrich.

The message to Clinton who, according to U.S. Jewish weekly newspapers, received about 85 percent of the Jewish vote in the 1992 election and 88 percent in 1996, was that if Clinton allows the Democratic Party to abandon its traditional, undiluted support for the Jewish state, Netanyahu will turn to the Republicans and the Christian Coalition, the most conservative element within the Republican Party.

In the past the Christian Coalition has become known for its strong opposition to abortion under any circumstances and to the teaching of evolution in U.S. public schools unless they also teach "creationism," the belief that the world was created in seven days. Netanyahu's implied threat was that Robertson and Falwell would turn their well-funded efforts to persuading Christian Coaltion leaders to add blind support of Israeli territorial expansion to their agenda, and thus inject it into Republican Party policies.

All this provided an interesting backdrop to a remark by Press on the CNN program that Netanyahu's support in public opinion polls in Israel was "almost as low" as Gingrich's in public opinion polls in the United States. …

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