Jewish World Review / March 27, 1998 / 29 Adar, 5758

Jonathan S. Tobin

Jonathan S. Tobin Will American Jews help Clinton push Israel into a corner?

IT SEEMS AS IF virtually everyone in-the-know in both Washington and Jerusalem (as well as every Arab capital) is convinced that the Clinton Administration is about to start twisting Israel's arm.

The fact that the U.S. is about to announce a plan to advance the peace talks is an open secret as American impatience with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has Peace Sign reached a crescendo. Indeed, the Israelis have been mounting an all-out campaign to try to persuade Mr. Clinton not to announce the plan which will --- according to reliable reports --- call (among other things) for an Israeli withdrawal of 13 percent of those parts of Judea and Samaria which are not already under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Yet this plan differs only by 4 percent from an Israeli proposal in which the Netanyahu government said it would give up 9 percent of the territories to Arafat and company. Many are asking why would Netanyahu risk angering the Americans. But we are curious as to why Mr. Clinton would choose to push Israel into a corner over 4 percent and trash the principle of Israeli self- determination?

Israel's right to decide for itself

The answer doesn't lie in the details of the various proposals. It is to be found in the philosophy driving each country's negotiating strategy. Israel's current government believes it was elected not to acquiesce to every demand of the Palestinians but to pursue the Oslo peace only as long it is consistent with the security and the rights of its citizens. It is willing to make concessions but only so long as the Palestinians are ready to make keep their end of the bargain.

The Clinton Administration is apparently interested only in moving the peace process towards one end: more Israeli concessions and no Palestinian accountability. Its negotiating team is bereft of any guiding principle except getting the Israelis to give more under any and all circumstances. If the Palestinians haven't lived up to their commitments under Oslo that is so much the worse for the Israelis because Washington has shown it doesn't care about the issue. Witness the State Department's decision to increase U.S. aid to the corrupt Palestinian Authority by $25 million in spite of the fact that current U.S. law calls for all such aid to cease if the PA doesn't live up to its previous agreements (which it clearly has not).

The end goal of this U.S. maneuvering is a final status agreement with a Palestinian state governing virtually all of the territories because it believes that is the only thing that will resolve the conflict. To that end, the U.S. is prepared to cajole, push, pressure, grandstand, embarrass and generally hornswoggle Netanyahu.

I think this policy is wrong for two reasons.

First, Netanyahu is right not to emulate his Labor predecessors by trusting Arafat blindly. Their go-slow policy on concessions has been vindicated by the violence incited by their erstwhile "peace partner."

Secondly, the elected leaders of Israel have a right to determine their country's fate and not have it imposed upon them by even the friendliest of powers.

Will American Jews stand by and watch?

Mr. Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and their ambassadorial messenger boy Dennis Ross, all believe they can get away with muscling Netanyahu largely because they are counting on the support of American Jews.

They believe this because their friends in the "leadership" of major American Jewish organizations tell them it is so and they have cooked opinion polls to come up with results to back this conclusion (though other polls contradict these assumptions). These people tell Clinton he has the right to protect Israel from itself and he has come to believe it. What can we do about this outrageous turn of events? What is needed is for American Jews to speak out loudly now. Our organizations, their leaders and ordinary Jews should say they will not stand by and let the Jewish state get hustled by a president who needs foreign policy triumphs to distract the citizenry from the ethical and moral scandals swamping his administration.

As much as the State Department, the Europeans and the Arabs cry out for a policy of overt American pressure on Israel, we don't believe it is inevitable. I think a strong American Jewish response from across the political spectrum, from those who believe - whatever their opinion of Mr. Netanyahu - that Israel has the right to decide its fate for itself, would shake this poll-driven and campaign contribution hungry administration. If Mr. Clinton sees that there is a price to be paid for twisting Israel's arm, he may well back down.

Our Jewish leaders, our organizations and the rank and file ordinary Jew on the street have the capacity to impact on this pressure process and make Mr. Clinton think twice before he trashes Israeli self-determination.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger.


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3/15/98: Still searching for Jews at the opera
3/11/98: Remembering Eric Breindel
3/8/98: Getting lost in history
3/5/98: Follow the money to Hamas
2/22/98: Re-writing "Anne Frank" - A distorted legacy
2/15/98: Religious persecution is still a Jewish issue
2/6/98: A lost cause remembered (the failure of the Bund)
2/1/98: Economic aid is not in Israel's interest
1/25/98: Jews are news, and a fair shake for Israel is hard to find

©1998, Jonathan S. Tobin