Israeli Request for Loan Guarantees Not Posed As a Provocation, Levy Says

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy expressed frustration Wednesday at the way the Bush administration’s disagreement with Israel over its request for U.S. loan guarantees has been framed as an estrangement between the two governments.

Levy, speaking here to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that the request for guarantees covering $10 billion in loans “should not be posed as a kind of provocation against the president of the United States.”

“We haven’t sinned against anybody” with our request, Levy said. “These are but guarantees. We should repeat it over and over again.

“This is not a present. These are funds we’re going to pay back. Why did they have to put it in such a manner? Only God knows the answer,” he said emotionally.

“We don’t want to go head to head with friends like the United States,” he added.

The foreign minister was alternately angry and conciliatory, first protesting that President Bush is making new demands of Israel, in advance of the proposed peace conference, and then urging that tensions between the Bush and Shamir administrations “be played down.”

“We hope that this wave will somehow pass. We must act together in order that relations between the two countries not be undermined,” Levy said.

“We ought not to create a situation where Israel is enfeebled” by preconditions, he said. “This would drive peace away. Israel and the United States, standing together, are a guarantee for Israel’s strength and peace.”

‘WHO DO WE HURT, REALLY?’

The foreign minister expressed bewilderment that Bush had reportedly changed his mind about backing the loan guarantees because of Jewish settlement in the administered territories, when the Likud government’s position promoting such efforts is nothing new.

“This is not really a provocative step when we are doing these things,” he maintained. The Shamir government “is very well defined. We know its identity, we know its platform. Is it suddenly something new that turned out?”

Levy also said that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker had agreed that during peace negotiations, Israel could define U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 “the way it feels fit.”

The U.N. resolution calls on Israel to return territory seized in the 1967 Six-Day War, in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel’s right to exist.

“Everyone has the right to interpret this in his own way,” Levy added firmly.

If, as the American administration insists and the Israeli administration demands, there are no prior conditions to a peace conference, why should settlements in the territories be viewed as a provocation? Levy queried.

“Mr. Baker told me that the Arab states have claimed it is up to Israel to stop the settlements before the convening of the conference. He has told me he has rejected it,” the foreign minister said.

“If this is being said by the secretary of state, who do we hurt, really?”

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