JERUSALEM (Jul. 31)
Israel as a whole has a markedly more secure and confident feeling Thursday, after Vice President George Bush’s visit here, than it did at the beginning of the week.
The man who may well be the next U.S. President and leader of the free world had been regarded here with a certain sense of distance, even trepidation.
Some of the media, and some pundits, had written that Bush, while not unfriendly, was less friendly than other American leaders–and other Presidential hopefuls–towards the Jewish State. At best, they said, he was uncaring, indifferent to the unique features of the Jewish historical experience.
Now, after stripping away all the pap and pazzaz inevitably present in a Vice Presidential visit, and in Vice Presidential rhetoric, most Israelis are left with a comfortable feeling that Bush follows what is by now a mainstream tradition in American government of regarding Israel as both a strategic ally and a moral mainstay for the United States.
STATEMENTS LEAVE A GLOW
His declaration that the two countries were “allies in every sense of the word” and his statement that “many intangible, and in sense spiritual, ties” have developed “a multitude of wordly bonds” between the U.S. and Israel, seemed to leave a glow here. And Israeli leaders, particularly Deputy Premier Yitzhak Shamir, had made a point of emphasizing Bush’s personal involvement in the rescue of Ethiopian Jewry and his long-time interest in the cause of Soviet Jewry.
Bush for his part visited a Russian immigrant family and an Ethiopian absorption center in his packed, much photographed and filmed four-day itinerary here–thereby stressing those same points.
NO MAJOR POLICY PRONOUNCEMENT
In terms of substantive policies, the Vice President had no major pronouncement to make here. But he pleased his hosts by indicating that Washington is weighing a new, more preferred, status for Israel in the field of military supplies and support. He said at his press conference Wednesday in Jerusalem that Israel might in the future benefit from the same preferential trade benefits as Australia and New Zealand enjoy.
He was also at pains to ease recent tensions surrounding the Pollard spy affair and subsequent allegations of Israeli technology-smuggling, which have sullied relations between the U.S. and Israel.
He hoped, he said, that his visit had had the effect of dispelling misplaced suspicions here that some American officials were conducting a vendetta against Israel.
On the Palestinian issue, moreover, Bush was careful not to step out beyond the Reagan plan–this despite pressures on him by hardline Palestinian circles in the West Bank and Gaza.
And he was generous in his praise of Premier Shimon Peres’ visit to King Hassan of Morocco last week.
ON THE DEBIT SIDE
On the debit side in summing up this visit, there were the failed hopes that somehow Bush’s presence in the area could be used as pivot around which to construct the long-awaited summit between Peres and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Some Israeli officials believed the summit could become a threesome, with Bush participating.
But this is apparently not to be, as Israeli and Egyptian negotiators still continued Thursday in Eilat to haggle over the finishing touches to the Taba arbitration document.
Similarly, the visit was to have marked a new leap forward in tourism ties between Israel and America. But in the event the tourism pact signed by Bush and Peres was a largely declaratory document–in part because the U.S. balks at Israel’s continued imposition of a travel tax upon its citizens.
On the credit side, however, the visit did catalyze the initialling of an accord on the building of huge Voice of American transmitters in the Negev–with Washington pledging that some 50 percent of all the contracts linked to this $250 million project will go to Israeli companies.