A WAITING GAME DEVELOPS BETWEEN THE U.S. AND ISRAEL

A Waiting Game Develops Between the U.S. and Israel

 

The Hartford Courant, September 12 1991

 

The fight is on in Washington, D.C. President Bush has called for Congress to hold off on Israel’s request for $10 billion in loan guarantees to facilitate absorption of Soviet Jews. The Ameri­can Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful lobby that represents many in the American Jewish commu­nity, is determined to push for early passage of the legislation—without conditions requiring that Israel halt set­tlement activity in the occupied territo­ries. If AlPAC succeeds in this, Middle East peace negotiations will be doomed ‘before they begin.

AIPAC argues that the settlement is­sue can be resolved in the negotiations. But the truth is the reverse: Failure to solve the settlement issue will destroy the: negotiations—if they ever begin. The Arab states, with their shaky claims to legitimacy, will be accused by funda­mentalists and other opponents of nego­tiations of giving Israel recognition at the conference table and of participat­ing In a charade behind which Israel so­lidifies its de facto annexation· of the territories.

Undoubtedly, both the Arab states and the Palestinians have told Secre­tary of State James A. Baker III that they will need a settlement freeze in or­der to stay in the negotiations, and Bak­er knows that the loan guarantees are the key to his ability to halt the settle­ment drive.            

On this point, the Camp David experi­ence is instructive. Even the forceful face-to-face involvement of an Ameri­can president failed to produce more than a momentary halt to Israel’s con­struction of new settlements. Indeed, within 30 days of signing the accords, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin decided, over American objections, to continue expanding existing settle­ments.

If there are negotiations on an overall Middle East peace, they will be long and difficult. Over the next five years, Bush will be eyeball to eyeball with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir time and again. This cannot be avoided. Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank during the 1967 war, the United States has maintained that a peace settlement will require a significant Israeli with­drawal. Nothing has happened in the past 24 years to cast doubt on the sound­ness of that proposition. But ever since the 1920s, the revisionist wing of the Zionist movement, from Vladimir Jabo­tinsky to Begin and then to Shamir, has never wavered in its determination to extend Israel’s borders to include the West Bank. Shamir has been single ­minded on this for more than 50 years, and he is prepared to wait out a second Bush administration if he has to.

The issue of the loan guarantees is more than Round 1 in the Bush-Shamir contest; for Bush, this is a make-it-or-­break-it fight. The loan guarantees rep­resent the most powerful potential le­verage Bush has over Shamir. The reason is this: For most Israelis, the im­migration and successful absorption of the Soviet Jews is the most important issue facing their country today.

This is much more than a matter of saving Jews from possible repercus­sions as the Soviet Union disintegrates; that could be accomplished by lifting the quota that restricts the number emi­grating to the United States. But their coming to Israel is a validation of Zion­ism itself. It is the raison d’être of the Jewish state, and if they do not come, or if they come and then leave because Is­rael cannot provide jobs and housing, then Zionism itself will have failed. The immigration of the Soviet Jews is a one­time historical possibility. The issue of land may never be permanently resolved, but if the Soviet Jews reject Is­rael, they will be lost to Israel forever.

Polls show that, faced with a deter­mined American administration; only 16 percent of Israelis would give up the loan guarantees rather than give in to American demands on settlement. The Israeli people will demand a new gov­ernment rather than allow the absorp­tion effort to fail. Since Israel cannot carry out the absorption program with­out the loan guarantees, Bush has the leverage he needs, unless Congress comes to Shamir’s rescue.

But what about the Soviet Jews? Sha­mir treats them as pawns when he gam­bles that Congress will break with the president; but they are also treated as pawns if we rely solely on the belief that the Likud will back down on the settlements or be replaced by a new govern­ment. Something more is needed: a U.S. safety net for Soviet Jews. If Shamir does not relent, and thus forgoes the loan guarantees, then the United States should open its doors to the Soviet Jews, giving them freedom to choose.

 

 

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