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September 27, 1991 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-09-27

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Shamir's Stand
Has Voters Wondering

For the average Israeli, the nation's overall
welfare takes preference over political ideology.


Special to The Jewish News


hat Americans
perceive as a do-
mestic power
struggle between President
George Bush and Congress
— or the AIPAC lobby —
over the $10 billion loan
guarantee for Soviet immi-
grant housing has been por-
trayed in Israel in far more
dramatic, almost apocalyp-
tic, terms as a struggle over
the future of the Jewish
Yet a number of points are
striking about this latest
contretemps between Wash-
ington and Jerusalem.
First of all, it comes at a
time when most of the State
of Israel is virtually "out to
lunch" because of the series
of holidays that fall in the
middle of the week and gen-
erally throw life out of
It's hard to get a rise of out
Israelis during this season,
so that President Bush's
bombshell just after the Jew-
ish New Year, and Secretary
of State James Baker's visit
on the eve of Yom Kippur
could not have come at a
more inopportune time in
terms of forcing Israelis to
focus on cardinal political
Perhaps that is why the
government's reaction, or
overreaction, to the Bush
assault — Prime Minister
Yitzhak Shamir even invok-
ed the Holocaust to spur on
the American-Jewish lobby
— has not been shared by
the Israeli people.
It is equally possible,
however, that another, less
prosaic factor is at work.
Although the president has
gone out of his way to avoid
saying so (apparently for
tactical reasons), the object
of his sanction of the Shamir
government is its ac-
celerated settlement activity
in the occupied territories.
And that is a subject on
which there is not now and
has never been a consensus
in Israel.
Much to the contrary,
Labor and the leftist parties
have often warned that

Prime Minister Shamir and
Housing Minister Ariel Sha-
ron are actively turning
Israel into a bi-national
state and have now lashed
into the government for its
perverse order of priorities
in placing the settlements
above the successful absorp-
tion of immigrants and pro-
tecting Israel's relationship
with its one solid ally.
Uzi Baram, the Labor Par-
ty's former secretary, has
gone so far as to characterize
the American position as
"reasonable and logical."
Even more to the point, a
poll published at the
weekend in the Jerusalem
Post— hardly known for its
leftist views — shows that 57
percent of the Israeli people
would halt settlement in the
occupied territories in
return for the loan guar-
Add the fact that there
have been no outcries of
popular indignation or
rallies of support for Mr.
Shamir and one gets the
distinct, if unanticipated,
impression that Israelis are
less than solidly in sym-
pathy with their govern-
Many, in fact, are rather
understanding of President
Bush's rather aggressive
behavior toward Jerusalem.
And what they may have
not sensed instinctively
has been amply elaborated
by the press in litanies
of everything the Likud

Israeli public
support for Mr.
Shamir has been
noticeably lacking.

government has done to
provoke George Bush (in-
cluding the failure to estab-
lish an absorption program
that would raise funds first
of all from the Israeli public,
behaving ungratefully
toward the U.S., and organi-
zing American-Jewish "fat
cats" to put pressure on
Congress rather than reach
into their own pockets in
support of Israel).
A number of articles

written in a strongly pes-
simistic vein trace the ero-
sion of popular American
support for Israel due to the
1982 invasion of Lebanon
and later to the intifada.
Some also point to the
declining clout of the Ameri-
can-Jewish community and
even cite the objections to
Israeli policy among Ameri-
can Jews — a point
underscored last weekend by
reports that the Conference
of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organiza-
tions has told Israeli Ambas-
sador Zalman Shoval,
straight out, that it cannot
not endorse the construction
of settlements over the
Green Line.
But what really set the
press going were official pro-
testations of "surprise" at
the president's action,
coupled with a chance but
revealing line delivered by
Mr. Shamir during a brief
exchange with a television
"I think that what we have
seen and heard recently is
not accurate, not real, and
this is not the American
people," said Israel's prime
minister. "The American
people will return to itself,
and I hope this will pass like
a bad dream."
"Fantasies are not policy!"
the prestigious daily Haaretz
chided in its Sunday edito-
rial, while columnist Gideon
Samet pronounced that it is
the government's settlement
policy, not Mr. Bush's exas-
peration with it, that is real-
ly Israel's bad dream.
Brent Scowcroft and other
American officials have long
been telling American-
Jewish leaders (who have
presumably conveyed the
word to Jerusalem) that the
matter of the Israeli set-
tlements had become an
"obsession" for President
Bush. It seems to be much
the same for Mr. Shamir and
Mr. Sharon.
Yet successive polls have
shown that this fixation does
not extend to the vast
majority of Israelis. Even
the voters who have kept the
Likud in power do not seem

Artwork by Richard 149ho9nd. Copyright. 1990, Richard Mihollad. Distrbuted by los MO= linos Srxicsto.

to have been motivated by a
profound commitment to the
Greater Land of Israel. Forc-
ed to choose between secur-
ing the territories and en-
suring the broader welfare of
Israel's population, it is
questionable whether they
will accept widespread hard-
ship to defend a narrow
ideological goal.
"The Israeli public does
not support the settlements
as an ideology wrote Mr.
Samet, the columnist. In-
deed, "the government's
greatest success," in his
rendering, "has been to
transform the settlements
from a controversial issue
into the symbol of Israeli ac-
complishment and deter-
The bottom line, however
— and what Israel may
finally be grasping now — is
that there's no free lunch.
"What 100,000 Israelis are
doing in the territories (some
only for reasons of conve-

nience and economy), four
million will have to solve,
one day, with great difficulty
and at a high price," Mr.
Samet said.
Some believe that part of
that bill has already come
due. Although no one has of-
ficially cried "uncle," it is
generally accepted in Israel
that the battle for
"guarantees now" has been
lost, and the most one can
hope for is better luck after
the 120-day delay requested
by the president.
In the meanwhile,
paradoxical as it may seem,
by administering his swift
kick President Bush may
have done Israelis a service
merely by forcing them out
of their political torpor and
back into the debate over
what they really want and,
equally significant, what
they're willing to pay for
it. 0

Ina Friedman is a Jerusalem



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