Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Puts Pressure on Israel

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Puts Pressure on Israel

Article excerpt

When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Washington in November, I observed to him that the Clinton administration appeared more eager than Rabin's for a quick Israeli agreement with Syria. How did he feel, I asked, about American pressure regarding Syria?

There is no pressure, answered Rabin tersely, and moved on to other subjects.

I doubt he believed it then. I doubt he would say it now. After Clinton's meeting with President Hafez Assad Jan. 16 in Geneva, the pressure is on.

Rabin knows pressure. In March 1975, as Israeli prime minister in one of his earlier incarnations, Rabin was at the receiving end of one of the most brutal examples of pressure ever brought by an American administration. During Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy between Israel and Egypt, Rabin balked at withdrawing from certain strategic mountain passes in Sinai. Kissinger then threatened an agonizing "reassessment" of American policy supporting Israel. Rabin tried holding fast, but in the end, withdrew.

Perhaps Rabin reserves the word pressure for the Kissingerian sort. Clinton is no Kissinger. He is more a hugger than a squeezer. The pressure he is bringing on Israel may be gentler. But given Israel's enormous dependence on American good will and support, it is powerful pressure all the same.

What happened? In Geneva, as Clinton and Assad emerged from a five-hour meeting, Clinton declared that Syria had made a momentous concession, finally offering Israel full normalization of relations (in return for Israel giving Syria all of the Golan Heights). "I would hope," added Clinton pointedly, "that this would provoke a positive response in Israel."

Translation: The ball is in Israel's court. The administration expects Israel to respond with radical territorial concessions to satisfy Assad. The heat is on.

It was an odd performance by Clinton. First, the "breakthrough." Assad in his opening statement did utter the words "normal peaceful relations." He said it once, grudgingly and without elaboration.

Clinton seized on this as a major breakthrough, "clear, forthright and very important." Indeed, when Clinton was asked if Assad was ready "to normalize relations with Israel" meaning "open borders, free trade and diplomatic relations," Clinton answered unequivocally: "The short answer is yes. …

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