Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1992, Page 18

Speaking Out

A Fundamental Change in U.S.-Israeli Relations

By Paul Findley

Commentators and politicians in televised discussions are busy pondering this question: Has the U.S.-Israeli relationship undergone a major change?

My short answer: yes. The president of the United States is putting precise conditions on U.S. aid to Israel and Congress is cooperating. This is a fundamental change from the past. And, I must add, one that is being broadly welcomed by the American people.

My longer answer: This change may not hold. It could be reversed by U.S. voters in November or by unpredictable events in the Middle East.

The election of Governor Bill Clinton or any other Democrat except former Governor Jerry Brown would definitely reverse the new tougher policy toward Israel. While the re-election of George Bush today seems likely, the American electoral scene remains remarkably volatile.

One should never underestimate the skill of Israel's U.S. lobby in manipulating American public opinion and, in that connection, the impact on attitudes that may arise if new violence should occur in the Middle East.

A lobbyist for Israel, Douglas Bloomfield, once told me, "Just when I think Israel's government has lost the day by doing something stupid, Israel's foes save us by doing something even more stupid."

An Extremely Bleak Outlook

At this moment, however, the scene must look extremely bleak to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Note:

Ӣ President Bush is standing firm in opposition to any U.S. loan guarantees to finance improvements for Israel's new immigrants unless Israel stops building housing in the occupied territories. He rejects all compromises offered by pro-Israel members of Congress. And Congress has made no move to challenge Bush's position.

Ӣ American public opinion strongly opposes loan guarantees under any condition. This reflects, in part, the rising anti-foreign aid sentiment that helped to propel the candidacy of Bush's Republican challenger, columnist-commentator Patrick Buchanan. Many voters oppose loan guarantees, even as a reward to Israel for halting the construction of controversial settlements.

Ӣ Israel is charged with new perfidy against its main benefactor. The Bush administration reports that Israel has violated vital security agreements by selling U.S.-furnished missile technology to China and other countries. Most Americans view this as bad faith, to say the least. Coming on the heels of the gross thievery of U.S. security secrets by Jonathan Pollard, a paid spy for Israel now incarcerated in a U.S. federal prison, Israel emerges as history's greatest ingrate. Israel, of course, denies the charge of illicit transfers of U.S.-provided missile technology. My book, They Dare to Speak Out, contains 45 footnoted pages recording Israel's past successes in seducing U.S. military personnel and pilfering American security secrets.

No Israeli prime minister has dared to stand firm in a confrontation with the president of the United States.

Ӣ Pro-Israel supporters are having difficulty identifying an electable candidate for the U.S. presidency who is friendly to Israel. Political scientist Allan Lichtman writes: "The Jewish community is looking for a winner this time around; it's been a long time out in the cold and it's seen as very important to back a winner." Identifying a winner with pro-Israel credentials is the problem. Front-running Democrat Bill Clinton is burdened with negatives that put in serious question his ability to win against Bush in November. Nor can Shamir find comfort on the Republican side, where Patrick Buchanan is considerably more critical of Israel than is President Bush.

Ӣ In Israel, Shamir has taken an unprecedented step. He has invited a confrontation over loan guarantees with Israel's chief benefactor, the government of the United States, and he is taking this case to the Israeli people in his country's June election.

In past years, no Israeli prime minister has dared to stand firm in a confrontation with the president of the United States, simply because U.S. support is considered the lifeline of survival for Israel. In every showdown until now, Israel has always yielded.

The best known example was Israel's decision, demanded by President Eisenhower, to halt its assault on the Suez Canal in 1956, and subsequently to withdraw from the Sinai territory seized from Egypt. Less known were its capitulation to a later Eisenhower demand against river diversion and to two ultimatums issued quietly but firmly by President Jimmy Carter against Israeli military policies in Lebanon.

Confronting Israeli Voters With A Sobering Choice

In going to the Israeli people in a confrontation with the United States, Shamir put his own political future and that of the Likud Party on the line. He confronts Israeli voters with a sobering choice. A vote for Shamir's Likud Party is a vote for continued trouble with the United States. A vote for the Labor Party will be castigated by the Shamir crowd as an undignified surrender to U.S. pressure. My own guess is that Israeli voters will turn Shamir out of office, rather than risk a break with the United States.

In the United States, the discontent with Governor Clinton's personal integrity, so evident in the Democratic primary elections, suggests the re-election of George Bush. But the volatility of the American electorate may yet produce some surprises. After 12 straight years of Republican control of the White House, all Democrats-not just Jewish Democrats-are eager for a winning presidential ticket. Still waiting in the wings is the governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, an ardent supporter of Israel and long considered the most electable Democrat.

So far, Cuomo has played cat-and-mouse over the nomination. Like all politicians, the New York governor would like to be president of the United States but he understandably wants to pick the best time.

Last autumn, he blamed the budget problems with the New York legislature for his reluctance to run in 1992. His real reason may have been the popularity that George Bush still maintained at that time. Whatever the reason, Cuomo's game irritated many Democratic Party leaders.

If Clinton's personal record makes him seem increasingly unelectable, however, Democratic party leaders may seek a way to give Cuomo, the reluctant candidate, the nomination after all. In doing so, though, they would further confuse the Democratic bid for the presidency.

Small wonder that Yitzhak Shamir is having long and somber thoughts these days.

Former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley is chairman of the Council for the National Interest, a membership organization located at 1900 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009.