Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush's Bombshell Is Shattering the Political Status Quo in Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush's Bombshell Is Shattering the Political Status Quo in Israel

Article excerpt

President Bush's decision to confront the Shamir government and its supporters in Washington over Israel's request that the US government guarantee $10 billion in loans to the Israeli government has produced an outcry among the "usual suspects" in the American media. Predictably, these include the Likud's three stooges--columnists A.M. Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer and William Safire--and a less passionate supporter of Israel, New York Times columnist Leslie Gelb.

Gelb characterized Bush's attempts to link the approval of the loan guarantees to Israeli cessation of its settlement policies in the West Bank and Gaza as "ugly and self-defeating" and implied an anti-Jewish attitude in Bush's approach. "Few Israelis," Gelb claimed, "can accept the linkage of settlements to humanitarian aid or a US demand to stop settlements before peace negotiations begin." Bush's policies will not weaken the Israeli hard-liners, Gelb predicted, but instead "are forcing most Israeli politicians to rally around Prime Minister Shamir."

The "Backlash" Spin

According to the spin developed by Gelb and other writers, the Bush administration actions will backlash in Israel, with a circling-the-wagons even among non-supporters of the Likud government and "peaceniks" who reject Shamir's settlement policies. Eventually, according to this scenario, faced with an "anti-Israeli" US president and growing US hostility even over the "humanitarian" issue of absorption of Soviet Jews, the Israeli public will back the Likud.

Safire predicts that the Bush actions will "boost superhawk Ariel Sharon." The Likud apologists predict that Shamir will emerge strengthened politically at home and less inclined to attend the American-led peace conference. "Bush's linkage between American loan guarantees and Arab-Israeli negotiations could wreck" the peace process, suggests Krauthammer. The president, if successful in his effort to delay approval of the loan guarantees, will win a Pyrrhic victory, contends Safire, and lose his ability to serve as a "global peacemaker."

Is that so? Almost two months have passed since Bush's dramatic challenge to Israel's vaunted US lobby, but none of these doomsday predictions have come true. Instead, the "lobby" backed off, the Congress "postponed" consideration of the loan guarantees, Israel and the Arabs are closer than ever before to participating in an American peace conference, and surprise, surprise, the Israeli public is not joining Shamir in "circling the wagons." Instead, it is falling in line with President Bush, with some 60 percent of Israelis supporting a linkage between the loan guarantees and the settlement policies.

As usual, however, some American Jews have proven to be more Catholic than the Israeli pope, encouraging Shamir to stand tall and not back down from his confrontation with Bush. For example, Kenneth Bialkin, former president of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, urged that Shamir "forgo the loan guarantees instead of compromising your principles."

According to several press reports, Israel's US lobby was more enthusiastic over a possible fight with Bush than Shamir himself. While the Israeli prime minister and some of his colleagues early on expressed some willingness to reach a compromise with Bush, the signals from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were clear: Victory is at hand! Don't give up! Some observers publicly attribute the Israeli government's decision to allow a $2 billion deficit in its latest budget proposal to advice coming from Stuart Eizenstat, a former Carter administration official and currently a lobbyist on behalf of Israel. (Eizenstat subsequently denied that on a recent "Nightline" program.)

Ironically, while Bialkin and other officials of Jewish organizations in the United States rejected any deal with the president, and a few even joined Israeli Minister Rehavam Ze'evi in accusing Bush of harboring anti-Semitic sentiments, most mainstream political figures and commentators in Israel, including members of the Likud party, pointed an accusing finger at the Israeli prime minister. …

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