Shamir, Bush Hope to Warm Cool Relations

But eroding alliance of trust is barrier to mending ties. `CHECKING IN' MEETING

DESPITE the bright smiles and warm diplomatic language expected when they meet at the White House today, President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir are unlikely to rescue United States-Israeli relations from the doldrums. In their first meeting in more than nine months, the Israeli leader's main objective will be to warm a cool personal relationship with Mr. Bush that symbolizes the crisis of trust that has developed between the US and Israel.

Even so, Mr. Shamir remains doggedly committed to some of the very policies - including the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza - that have put US-Israeli ties to the test in the first place.

``The two sets of priorities are working against each other,'' says Marvin Feuerwerger, a strategic fellow at the Institute for Near East Policy in Washington.

One US official describes today's session as a ``checking-in meeting designed to show that Israel is still one of our close friends and allies.''

The reaffirmation will be welcomed by Israel, which has been kept at arm's length as the US has turned to other Middle Eastern countries - including Israel's traditional adversary, Syria - to contain Iraqi aggression in Kuwait.

US Secretary of State James Baker III's decision to bypass Jerusalem during two recent visits to the Middle East has exacerbated concerns in Israel that the Gulf crisis could erode the strategic cooperation that has been one main pillar of the US-Israeli relationship.

Beyond this, says one Israeli source, is a worry that once the Gulf crisis is over the US will repay its debt to the Arab states that stood against Iraq ``in Israeli coin,'' by agreeing to step up pressure on Israel to quit the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli concerns on the point were heightened as the UN Security Council continued to debate a resolution calling for an international conference to discuss, among other matters, the Palestinian issue. A vote on the resolution was expected late yesterday.

The resolution was also expected to seek greater UN protection to Palestinians living in the territories.

Although the draft language of the resolution, which the US attempted to water down, contained major loopholes, it was angrily rejected by Shamir Sunday as a ``nonstarter.'' Israel fears giving any role in the Palestinian issue to the UN, which has regularly condemned its occupation of Arab lands.

Shamir insists that the real threat to the peace in the region is not the Palestinian issue but the fact that every Arab state except Egypt remains in a technical state of war with Israel.

``The two governments have emphasized entirely different sources of instability in the Middle East,'' says the source in Jerusalem, commenting on the different priority Washington and Jerusalem have placed on the Palestinian issue.

Though largely symbolic, any US decision to abstain on the UN resolution would be taken in Israel as evidence of a further deterioration in the sturdy alliance that has been key to the survival of that nation for 25 years.

In his discussion with Bush, Shamir is expected to repeat frequent Israeli warnings that any solution to the Gulf crisis that leaves Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in power and Iraq's military machine intact will leave the Middle East in jeopardy.

Israeli officials have delivered thinly veiled warnings that if the US fails to take the necessary steps, Israel may act on its own.

``Israel ... will make its own decisions,'' Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said last week.

Shamir will also appeal to Bush for more US financial aid to help settle the estimated 2 million Soviet Jews expected to settle in Israel over the next five years.

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