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Jewish World Review Dec. 2, 2001 / 18 Kislev, 5762

Julia Gorin

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Bush's Middle East tightrope: Mixed signals, or a stroke of genius? -- ONE week Bush is telling Israel to go back to the negotiating table without so much as a Palestinian cease-fire; the next week he's in a room with Arafat and refuses to meet him. The Jews don't know what to think. One week they're panicking; the next week they're kvelling. All the while, they're watching this Bush like hawks. With the memory of his father's pressure on Israel still fresh in their minds, they sit on their haunches, poised for the inevitable betrayal.

Two months ago seemed to give them what they were waiting for, first when we were assembling a coalition and Israel was being pressured back into land-for-peace despite continued Arab violence, and then when we balked at its targeted killings.

"You see? He's throwing us to the wolves! He's selling Israel out! He's a jerk just like his father!" was the commentary from some Jewish quarters. Then: "Wow. Did you hear Condoleeza? She said Arafat's not serious about rooting out terrorists and so can't meet with the president yet."

The signals may be mixed, but they may also be brilliant.

Before we can determine which is the case, we must review some discernable patterns. Let's begin by enumerating Bush Sr.'s crimes against the Jews/Israel. ONE: He withheld loan guarantees for Israel, demanding that Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir halt building in settlements within the disputed territories.

And that's about it. Unless you include the infamous advice of his secretary of state, James Baker, to "f--- the Jews; they don't vote for us anyway."

Of course, Baker only said it. The man we replaced these people with actually did it. Let's enumerate.

Bill Clinton:

ONE: Didn't refer to Israel as an "ally."

TWO: Left the question of whether to move the American Embassy to the Israeli capital up to Palestinians.

THREE: Received Arafat as a guest to the White House more often than Monica Lewinsky.

FOUR: Under his watch, the U.S. made the historical move of not vetoing a U.N. resolution of condemnation against Israel.

FIVE: Encouraged the release of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons, many of whom were made armed PA police.

SIX: Legitimized as a statesman the chairman of the PLO, the group which pioneered hijacking, hostage-taking, school bus-bombing and widespread targeting of civilians.

SEVEN: Forced Israel to continue dealing with Arafat and move from one agreement to the next without holding the Palestinians to their end of the bargain, thereby rewarding rather than punishing their aggression.

EIGHT: Paved the way into Intifada II, with more terrorist attacks in the decade of "the handshake" than in any other.

NINE: In the first-ever direct U.S. interference in Israeli elections, he sent James Carville and his team to engineer the defeat of hawk Benjamin Netanyahu to dove Ehud Barak, who went on to compromise Israeli security.

TEN: Allowed the armed Palestinian police force to grow from the 9,000 maximum outlined in Oslo to upwards of 40,000.

ELEVEN: After Congress in 1995 viewed videos of Arafat calling for a holy war against Israel, he helped stifle their public showing.

TWELVE: Rather than enforce Oslo provisions requiring the PA to end incitement to war and hate education against Jews and introduce peace education, Clinton oversaw a new accord which eliminated those provisions.

THIRTEEN: The division of Jerusalem, which Oslo hadn't called for, became seriously negotiated via a Clinton plan putting most of the Old City, as well as Temple Mount and the Jewish Mount of Olives cemetery, under Palestinian control.

FOURTEEN: His state department went to great pains to point out any divergence between Israeli and U.S. positions.

FIFTEEN: The defense establishment under Clinton had one of the worst records of anti-Jewish ethnic profiling, with religiously observant Jews in the CIA suspected as Israeli spies and a 1996 Defense Department memo warning defense contractors about those with "strong ties to Israel;" religious Jews in the defense community were singled out for investigation and/or firing.

SIXTEEN: Hillary.

Nonetheless, mainstream Jews tried to salvage this legacy and continue the trend by voting overwhelmingly for this man's vice president in November 2000, pathetically proving Baker's statement true to the core.

But despite the West Palm Beach fiasco, with the counting and recounting, the vilifying and nullifying, and making it more painful than ever for a man to claim a fairly won victory, the dreaded son finally took office. And still his "legitimacy" problems didn't end there, what with several of his appointments challenged, most notably that of his attorney general, whom the most unfortunate caricature of our people-Uber-Jew Streisand-organized senators against, before going on to goad Congressional Democrats into subverting presidential and other Republican initiatives.

The man owes us nothing. Certainly between Jewish Americans and Arab Americans-a significant percentage of whom did vote for Bush-he owes us nothing.

And yet. And yet.


ONE: Refers to Israel as "our ally."

TWO: In his first two weeks as president, he called then Prime Minister Barak to underscore that the U.S. is for a safe and secure Israel.

THREE: In the same two weeks he set up a commission to explore the logistics of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

FOUR: The first Middle Eastern dignitary with whom he met was the Israeli prime minister.

FIVE: Has yet to meet the Palestinian leader.

SIX: For this Bush

is braving criticism and pressure from Europe and the Middle East.

SEVEN: For this and for not pushing Sharon back to the negotiating table as insistently as the Arab world would like, he is risking a rift with Saudi Arabia at a critical time.

EIGHT: Continually battles his own State Department over Israel.

NINE: His administration in March rejected Syrian President Assad's condemnation of Israel as a racist society, and strongly opposed a renewal of the Arab boycott of Israel.

TEN: When Palestinians aimed mortar shells at an Israeli town in April and Israel responded with shelling and rocketing, the Bush administration accused Hezbollah and its host country Syria of igniting the outbreak, and rather than condemn Israeli retaliation, called the attack "a clear provocation.designed to set off a cycle of violence.''

ELEVEN: As early as July, the administration was pushing hard behind the scenes for countries to reject anti-Israel resolutions at the UN's upcoming Racism Conference in September.

TWELVE: Sent low-ranking State Department officials to this conference, who ultimately joined Israel in walking out all together.

THIRTEEN: Vetoed a UN resolution to establish an international monitoring body to "protect" Palestinians.

FOURTEEN: Rebuked Colombia and promised consequences when that country voted in favor of such an observer force.

FIFTEEN: Extended a U.S. reward policy for information on terrorists who have killed American citizens to include American Jewish citizens killed in Israel; under Clinton they were excluded from the program.

All this when anything at all would have been cream, and despite his oft-cited "oil interests."

Sure he often defaults to those annoying, sweeping platitudes, like insisting that "both sides" end the violence and move forward with peace talks, like expressing a vision for a Palestinian state, like urging restraint in Israeli retaliation and condemning its targeted killings. Giving the appearance of impartiality, he is talking the talk, knowing that none of it can happen unless and until the Palestinians walk the walk. He is putting the ball in the right court, cleverly shifting the burden from his shoulders to those of the disgruntled party, where it belongs. By making progress incumbent upon the plaintiff-instigator, the result is a status quo, or paralysis. A paralysis which, once he's said all the right things, frees the president up to take care of business.

Even the tiff a month ago between Bush and Sharon seemed orchestrated. When the administration was pushing Sharon to resume talks with Arafat during continued Arab violence while it was trying to draw Arab nations into an anti-terror coalition, Sharon publicly criticized Bush with a canned speech full of fiery indignation demanding, "Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense." At which point the administration balked-and Sharon apologized on cue. Good show. Good enough to quiet voices for a time from Arab quarters accusing the United States of a one-sided approach to the Middle East.

All the while, Bush is working at a disadvantage-with a messier Middle East than ever-left to him by his Jewish-supported predecessor.

Despite Bush's track record, the at-large American Jewish community will go on being suspicious of the Bushes, and any subsequent pro-Israel move this Republican administration makes will continue to catch them by surprise, just as each successive betrayal by the previous, Democratic administration caught them by surprise every time.

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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