Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1993, Page 13

Affairs of State

A Tale of Two Diplomats: Ambassador to Israel is Reassigned

By Gene Bird

U.S. Ambassador to Israel William Harrop is being reassigned because the Israeli government didn't like his warnings to Israeli audiences to prepare for inevitable reductions in U.S. aid. The subject came up twice in public speeches he delivered and, according to the Tel Aviv daily Ma'ariv, the Clinton administration decided to dismiss Harrop for "deviating" from U.S. policy.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had said the same thing in a recent visit to Israel, which is why the U.S. ambassador was asked by Israelis to address the matter. What he said was not to their liking.

Nor did it please Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), the Hungarian-American guardian of Israel's interests in Congress. Lantos pressed Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian about whether or not Harrop was articulating Clinton administration policy. State Department Policy Planning Director Sam Lewis, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel for eight years, went to Tel Aviv to deliver the bad news.

Meanwhile, the scramble was on in the State Department to replace Harrop, with the Israel lobby seeking a Lewis-minded rather than a Harrop-minded candidate. Richard Schifter, a Reagan administration political appointee as assistant secretary of state for human rights, who resigned toward the end of the Bush era and, as a columnist for the Washington Jewish Week, supported Bill Clinton's candidacy, is back in the State Department as a Clinton administration political appointee, representing the U.S. with international organizations in Geneva.

Schifter desperately wanted to become the first Jewish ambassador to Israel. He elected to push his candidacy through Samuel R. (Sandy) Berger, White House deputy national security adviser, whose reputation as a liberal Jewish advocate of the dovish Americans for Peace Now makes him an unlikely supporter for a hard-line "neo-conservative" advocate of Israeli policies like Schifter. Schifter then called Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and the conversation went something like this, according to one insider:

Schifter: Mr. Secretary, I wanted you to know that I am ready to step in at Tel Aviv and I think I would be a good choice to push the peace process.

Christopher: I know that Mr. Berger has been suggesting this, pushing for it pretty strongly. But I believe you may be a little old for the job.

Schifter (taken aback): Why, Mr. Secretary, I am 69, that is true, but on the other hand, you are 67.

Christopher: Well, you know that I turned the president down on that very basis—that I was too old. But he insisted. The difference between that case and this is that he really wanted me and insisted on my accepting.

End of conversation.

The State Department announced a few days later that William Brown, an Arabist who has served previously in Tel Aviv as ambassador, had been appointed temporary ambassador, a highly unusual step that does not require Senate confirmation. Reginald Bartholomew, currently a special envoy on Bosnia, is rumored to be under consideration for Tel Aviv. A former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, he would be the first Jewish U.S. ambassador to Israel.

A Tale of Two Conventions: Conversions and Revelations

Speaking at the 1993 Washington, DC convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAQ), Israel's principal U.S. lobby, a Los Angeles early morning talk show host told the following joke: His guest was Christian fundamentalist televangelist and perennial presidential candidate Pat Robertson. The talk show host told him, "Pat, if you will support Israel now, I will guarantee you that every Jew will convert to become a supporter of Christ when he makes his second coming." The largely Jewish audience roared.

Speaking on the media panel at the 1993 Washington, DC conference of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Director Saul Landau of the Institute for Policy Studies told the following joke: During the 1970s, the Washington press corps had decided that then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger frequently bent the truth, but none of them could tell when he was lying and when he was not. They hired a psychologist who sat in on several press conferences and then briefed the press people: "It is very simple, really. He is telling the truth whenever he puts his hands on his glasses. He is telling the truth whenever he rubs the sides of his legs. And the secretary is telling the truth for sure whenever he puts his hands together under his chin. But, Dr. Kissinger certainly is telling lies whenever he opens his mouth." The largely Arab-American audience roared.

A Tale of Two Speeches: Warren Schmoozes Even-Handedly

Secretary of State Warren Christopher attended the spring 1993 AIPAC and ADC conferences. Appearances by U.S. secretaries of state are de rigueur at AIPAC, but Christopher's appearance before an ADC audience marked a first for a secretary of state, although Secretary of State James Baker had spoken before a U.S.-Arab business group during the Bush administration.

The secretary seemed to woo both sides equally in the two public appearances. He did it with carefully crafted reassurances that somehow did not contradict each other.

At the AIPAC meeting, the leadership baffled some of the less politically savvy rank and file by making a complete turnabout in AIPAC's attitude toward Americans for Peace Now, if not toward other liberal Jewish groups who have come to power in Israel. The reason is that some U.S. Jewish "peaceniks " have become official or unofficial members of the Clinton administration, either as FOBs (Friends of Bill) or friends of Hillary.

AIPAC mustered a claimed 3,000 delegates, plus 1,000 students from Zionist campus groups. The moment was characterized by AIPAC Executive Director Tom Dine as "The Bright U.S. -Israel Relationship Today. " There were boos from right-wing supporters, however, who objected to what they characterized as a sellout by Dine, who endorsed the application of Americans for Peace Now to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Two weeks after the conference, Peace Now's American President, Peter Edelman, was voted in as a member of the conference. He is an FOB, meaning friend of both Bill and Hillary.

Trumpeting the dominance of pro-Israel policymakers; in this administration, one speaker went so far as to claim, "Israel is an anchor for U.S. foreign policy, not just in the Middle East but throughout the world." The hubris was palpable, and the change from a year ago was remarkable.

The new chairman of AIPAC, Steve Grossman, is a Peace Now-type personality who used to head the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. Still, it was a wrenching experience for many in AIPAC to accept Peace Now as an almost equal.

By contrast, the only dispute that rippled the surface of a harmonious ADC convention concerned U.S. treatment of Iraq. No one disagreed that Iraqi President Saddain Hussain had violated both international law and human rights with his invasion and occupation of Kuwait. But a small, very small, group at the ADC convention rejected the whole of U.S. policy toward Iraq over the past three years.

Secretary Christopher was a hit at both conferences. At the ADC conference, it was an easy achievement. He was there. At the AIPAC conference, he had congressional company. Some 107 representatives and 35 senators also showed up.

For the AIPAC audience, he called Israel a "very special place" because of three themes. First, "shared values." Second, an "American commitment to Israel's security." Third, a "mutual commitment to Arab-Israeli peace. "

At neither conference, however, did he suggest that perhaps Israel was in deep violation of human and civil rights. And no one in his AIPAC audience asked him whether these shared values meant that America might someday hold as many political prisoners or kill as many persons under its control as has Israel. (The U.S. would have had to kill over a period of five years some 12,500 children under the age of 14, and have imprisoned more than half a million people, to have shared "Israeli values" in full.)

The ADC attendees thoroughly enjoyed the secretary's humor, particularly when he said that when he was photographed in Egypt posing with the Sphinx, one newspaper caption explained the "face on the left is Christopher's. " Christopher emphasized for the ADC audience the rewards of peace, including the end of terrorism, the end of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the growth of regional economic cooperation.

The hubris was palpable, and the change from a year ago was remarkable.

"My role," he said, "is to be a diplomat, not a dreamer. " He commended, in that context, the Palestinians for having made a "difficult and courageous" decision to return to the talks. He mentioned interim Palestinian self-government which would change the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.

His ADC audience was receptive because, by now, it is increasingly clear that if the peace process breaks down, it is the Clinton administration that stands to lose, both in world opinion and in its relations with key Arab countries.

The consequences for Israel, too, would be severe. It is likely that failure would cause the Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin to fall and quite possibly bring to power the new and more intransigent Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Strangely, the betting is that if there is a failure in this ninth "continuous" round of bilaterals in Washington, the Palestinian delegates stand to lose the least, because they have nothing left to lose. An end to the peace talks, in fact, might heal the split between Palestinians who participated in them, and those who rejected them.

A story circulating in Washington about Christopher's first trip abroad, which included visits to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, is that he was astonished at the insistence by ruling elites in both these countries that, above everything else, he must settle the Israel-Palestine dispute. Peace between Israel on the one hand and Syria, Jordan and Lebanon on the other was a close second priority. Security in the Gulf, the favorite topic for American officials these days, is clearly a poor third in priority for all Arabs, including those from the Gulf states.

Gene Bird is the president of the Council for the National Interest.

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