Era of Automatic US Assistance To Israel May Be Drawing to Close
American base of support for Jerusalem is eroding, analysts say
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Pressed by recession-strapped constituents, lawmakers are having a hard time defending the idea of underwriting loans to Israel, even though only a small percentage of the total would actually have to be budgeted to hedge against default.Skip to next paragraph
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But beyond the immediate issue of the loan guarantees even lawmakers have grown exasperated with Israel's intransigence on the settlements issue. Many American Jews worry that Congress's frustration could undermine the solid support on aid and arms sales issues that Israel has relied on for years.
"Something very important is happening in Congress that Israel needs to take note of," says Dr. Schneider. "Support for Israel is not as strong and as automatic as it once was."
Signs of erosion are also evident in the arena of American public opinion. The Jewish state has always been viewed warmly by Americans who see it as a bastion of democratic values and who have worried about its vulnerability to the hostile Arab states that surround it.
But recent polling data suggest that these pillars of support have all been weakened. Americans increasingly perceive Israel to be the main obstacle to a Middle East peace. Sustained press criticism of Israel's controversial response to the Palestinian uprising has eroded the feeling of shared values. Despite Iraq's Scud attacks during the Gulf war, Israel is no longer seen to be at the mercy of Arab arms. "On one hand, Americans are convinced that Arabs are no longer intent on destroying Israel," says t he political analyst. "On the other, most Americans think Israel could defeat any and all Arab armies."
Caught in the middle of this shifting tide of opinion is the US's articulate, well-organized Jewish community. Although US Jewish leaders remain unwavering in their support for Israel and high levels of US aid, even mainstream American Jews are more dovish than the Israeli government, more willing to openly disagree with it, and, more convinced that the loan guarantees are more important than new settlements. Ideological chasm
According to recent polls, an ideological chasm now divides American Jews from the policies of the Shamir government.
In a November survey of the officers of one bellwether Jewish organization, the Council of Jewish Federations, three-fourths said Israel should freeze settlements to get US loan guarantees. Ninety percent favored territorial compromise in West Bank and Gaza. Eighty percent approved of a demilitarized Palestinian state with proper security arrangements. Only 22 percent said they would vote for Shamir's Likud party in an Israeli election.
"Clearly American Jewish leaders are driven by a security commitment," says Schneider. "Shamir appears to be driven by a territorial commitment."
The tone of President Bush's dealings with Israel has been cooler than that of his recent predecessors.
But while any foreseeable Democratic successor would be more openly supportive of Israel, analysts say, none would be able to escape the divergence of interests created by Israel's current reluctance to go along with the land-for-peace formula the US regards as the key to ending 43-years of Arab-Israeli strife.