Ominous Signs

Even as Israel prepares to make a significant advance in the peace process — redeploying its forces in Hebron — a variety of ominous developments are occurring that suggest Israel and its American supporters could be in for a rough winter. And the warning signals are coming not only from enemies, but also friends.

Perhaps the most disturbing news is that President Clinton is angry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Apparently, Clinton is unhappy with Israeli foot-dragging in implementing the Hebron redeployment, which is tarnishing what he sees as one of his foreign policy successes in the midst of his campaign. He was also reportedly upset with Netanyahu’s perceived affinity for Republican officials and ideas.

The last thing Israel needs now or any other time is an angry President. Clinton may be the most pro-Israel President in history, but Netanyahu would be making a serious miscalculation if he believes this inoculates him against American pressure. People forget that Ronald Reagan, as good a friend as Israel has ever had, took a number of punitive measures against the Begin government for policies to which he objected. The idea that Clinton will take off the gloves after the election because he won’t have to worry anymore about Jewish votes is exaggerated; nevertheless, Netanyahu should not expect the uncritical support his predecessor received.

That said, U.S.-Israel relations are hardly in crisis. The eventual redeployment in Hebron will generate good will. Even now Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordecai secured a pledge for continued military assistance. The pro-Israel legislation of the current Congress was not impeded at all by the election of Netanyahu. In fact, the list of goodies Israel will receive is impressive: $3 billion in military and economic assistance, $2.5 million for the U.S.-Israel Science & Technology Commission, $21.5 million for the Counter-Terrorism Technical Support Working Group and money for a variety of strategic programs including the Arrow and Have-Nap missiles, Nautilus/Tactical High Energy Laser, and Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles. Though the makeup of Congress will change in November, members’ overwhelming support for Israel will undoubtedly continue. Still, the signals of American irritation with Netanyahu should not be ignored.

The Israeli left has to be concerned about Yasir Arafat’s continuing use of hostile rhetoric. In a recent speech, for example, he said the Palestinians did not stop the jihad over a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. “We are in conflict with the Zionist movement, the Balfour Declaration, and all imperialist activity,” he said. These are hardly the words of a man reconciled to live in peace with Israel.

The American Jewish left can’t be happy with Arafat’s remarks, but they should also be outraged by the Arab-American organizations. Just as they rushed to accept Arafat, many Jewish groups warmly embraced Arab-American organizations that had never shown anything but hostility toward Israel. Even during the tenure of Rabin and Peres, these groups had nothing good to say about Israel. Now that Netanyahu has adopted a tougher line on peace and security, they have reverted to unrestrained criticism. And, as always, they are blind to Palestinian terrorism and excesses.

Take the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). This group would be more aptly named the Anti-Semitism Committee. ADC charged that the Jerusalem tunnel was “a direct threat to Muslim holy sites.” It called for condemnation of “the Judaization of Jerusalem.” Clearly ADC prefers the dejudaization practiced by the Jordanians from 1949-1967.

Anyone who believes the Arab-American organizations (a misnomer since these anti-Israel groups are mostly Palestinians, while most Arab-Americans are Lebanese Christians) have changed need only listen to what they have to say. Any time an incident occurs in the Middle East, people like James Zogby are the first ones on TV to castigate Israel (no, make that second after Hanan Ashrawi). Palestinian policemen shooting Israelis? Suicide bombers in shopping centers? It’s all Israel’s fault.

It’s also interesting that American Jewish emissaries have gone to meet with Netanyahu to suggest he change his tune to avoid conflict with Clinton, but we never hear about Arab-Americans rushing over to tell Arafat to tone down his rhetoric and control Palestinian extremists.

The right may get some satisfaction in saying, “I told you so,” but even Netanyahu now recognizes Arafat’s the only game in town. The visit of French President Jacques Chirac should also serve as a reality check for the government. France and the rest of Europe can be kept on the sidelines of the peace negotiations because that’s where the Americans also want them, but Chirac demonstrated Europeans have the potential to take unilateral actions that can change facts on the ground. When he announced support for the creation of a Palestinian state, that was a warning that Europe will recognize one in the future, so Netanyahu should prepare himself to accept this as inevitable.

Americans and Israelis alike should not be confused as to who are their friends and enemies and be sure to treat the former with respect and the latter with caution.