Israel Keeps Tabs on GOP Win

Maintaining the flow of $3 billion in US aid keeps Israel's American handlers busy these days

WITH the stars lining up to shake his hand, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was pictured beside a beaming Barbra Streisand ... apparently without a care in the world.

Close behind: Elizabeth Taylor, Warren Beatty, and Michael Douglas.

So goes Israel's media view of Mr. Rabin's week-long visit to the United States to meet President Clinton and other top officials.

But beneath the glitz of the lunchtime extravaganza, Israelis feel uneasy - rather than panicked - about the Republican landslide in Congress, and what it means for the crucial moral, military, and economic support Israel receives from the US.

While most of the US's 5.5 million Jews support the Democrats, Israel's 4.5 million believe that Israel is a bipartisan issue in the US, receiving broad support in both the Republican and Democrat camps.

The initial statements by the controversial Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, slated to take control of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, that US foreign aid would be slashed across the board, caused alarm in Israeli political circles.

But within days, the senator had changed his tune, stressing that Israel was an exception because it served US strategic interests and shared American democratic values.

Israelis were further encouraged by the avalanche of criticism directed at Senator Helms - including an intervention by Mr. Clinton himself - when he dismissed the proposed peace treaty with Syria as a cynical attempt to regain the strategic Golan Heights and get access to US money.

``I think we're pretty safe,'' said Israeli government spokesman Uri Dromi.

``We have support in Congress and in the White House,'' Mr. Dromi said. ``The problem is the American people who are definitely against foreign aid for economic reasons. But with two out of the three major decisionmaking components, I think we are safe.''

Israelis were further comforted by Clinton's assurances after a meeting with Rabin on Nov. 21 that he would ask Congress to retain US aid to Israel at the $3-billion level and approve funding for a new antimissile defense system.

But doubts linger. While Israelis have a deep appreciation for the massive support from the US, they worry that the US could use their enormous leverage to force compromises in negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and Arab states in pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East settlement.

What Israelis fear most is the prospect of the US encouraging Palestinian claims for Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

But some observers believe that goodwill toward Israel in a Republican Congress will outweigh any future reduction in aid.

``If the president does try to accelerate the peace process at Israel's expense, Republican dominance in Congress could play a critical and positive role for Israel,'' said Saul Singer, on the staff of Sen. Connie Mack (R) of Florida, on a recent visit to Israel.

But there is also a realization that the gulf between Israel's 4.5 million Jews and the Jewish diaspora is widening and cannot be counted on to the same degree as it could in the past.

This realization - and a desire to break free of dependence on the US - has led some Israeli officials to advocate a voluntary relinquishing of the US aid.

``There are immense political advantages in voluntarily saying to the US: `Thanks for years of assistance, but we are now financially stable and wealthy enough to get along without it,' '' a senior Israeli official told the Jerusalem Post.

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