Published in The Jerusalem Post on March 29, 1998
(March 29) – Now that Washington and Jerusalem have climbed down
from the high trees they climbed in the battle over the second “further
redeployment” (FRD), it’s time to tally up the gains and losses.
* Paying for the Gulf conflict: To a great extent the pressure on Israel to
sweeten its pullback offer to the Palestinians is a function of European and
American need to make-up for, or “balance,” their toughness on Saddam.
Robin Cook’s theatrical effrontery was aimed at audiences not in
Jerusalem, but in Riyadh and Damascus. He meant to insult us for his own
purposes – to find favor in Arab eyes. Washington still believes it didn’t get
its bases in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf conflict because of Netanyahu’s
stubbornness in the peace process.
* Washington and Israeli security: What ought Washington’s role be in
determining the parameters of Israeli security? Over the last month the US
has come dangerously close to telling us what hills and valleys we can live
without, and how much land we can afford to forgo. This is troublesome,
because it sets an unhealthy precedent as we move closer to final status
Never before has the US sought to second-guess Israeli security needs. It
also violates an explicit commitment given last year by then-secretary
Christopher and Martin Indyk to Israel regarding the FRD process. “A
hallmark of US policy remains our commitment to work cooperatively to
seek to meet the security needs that Israel identifies”, wrote Christopher to
Netanyahu two days after the Hebron agreement.
* Taking the pulse of US Jews: There’s a big battle underway in
determining where the “American Jewish community” is at in terms of the
Netanyahu government and the peace process. The Clinton administration,
for sure, is watching closely for signals from the community.
The Israel Policy Forum, a US group allied with the Labor Party, polled
American Jews last year and found that 91 percent would “accept US
government pressure on Israel if that’s what it takes to advance the peace
The American Jewish Committee’s annual survey of American Jewish
opinion, taken late last month and just released, found only 45 percent of
US Jews supportive of such pressure on Netanyahu, with 52 percent
opposed. (69 percent say Washington should pressure Arafat).
There’s a whopping 50 percent difference between the two surveys! And a
McLaughlin poll taken in January for the conservative Middle East
Quarterly has a majority of 65 percent opposed to Clinton pressuring
Netanyahu on “trading land for peace.” Thus, it is possible that the
administration is misreading the pulse of the Jewish community when
thinking it can put the screws on Netanyahu with impunity. Can President
Clinton, or presidential candidate Gore, afford to have more than half of
American Jews angry at them?
* Backing Israel: Some analysts argue that the poll figures cited above are
irrelevant, because it doesn’t take much to bring the community back
aboard in support of Israel. “Any one of three elements will quickly swing
the Jewish public behind Israel,” says Kenneth Jacobson, associate national
director of the Anti-Defamation League, and one of American Jewry’s
most insightful, thoughtful leaders. “These elements are excessive pressure
from Washington; Arab misdeeds or terrorism; and most importantly of all,
an Israeli peace initiative.
“The latter in particular is important,” Jacobson explains. “A sign of serious
intent on the part of Netanyahu to advance the process with a defined plan
is something we can all get behind.”
Indeed, there were signs over the weekend that the proposal Netanyahu
made to Dennis Ross turned the tables, and that US Jewish leadership will
now rally behind it. Few American Jews or Washington policy-makers
could make sense of the big deal Netanyahu has made over the 4 percent
difference between Albright’s 13 percent FRD proposal and the 9 percent
acceptable to the cabinet.
With a more concrete Israeli plan on the table, the diplomatic debate can
be reoriented, provided that the prime minister and the cabinet evince a
continuing commitment to follow through.
* Final status ahead: One year from now, in March 1999, the Palestinian
Authority will declare independence and be recognized immediately by
almost every country in the world and the General Assembly of the United
Nations, with the exception of Micronesia, Costa Rica and perhaps an
abstention from the US.
Before this happens, the Netanyahu government’s real priority ought to be
reaching a strategic understanding with Washington on terms of a final
status deal. It is silly now to expend ammunition in arguments about small
percentages, and perhaps futile to argue against a more intrusive and
forceful American role in the process.
Better to make Washington our partner in the process, and have it
forcefully advance our interests with the Palestinians. This means quiet,
intensive discussions with the president and secretary of state, in an
atmosphere of complete frankness – not Israeli end-runs around the
administration through Christian right-wingers or Congress.
It also requires a realization on the Clinton-Albright teams that the
American Friends of Peace Now isn’t going to help much in “delivering” the Likud PM nor swaying an Israeli public wary of Arafat, nor will they get very far through snide leaks to The New York Times about Netanyahu.
The time is ripe for the leaderships in Jerusalem and Washington to open a new page and make a fresh attempt at a true diplomatic alliance.