Israelis Greet Christopher Visit with Mix of Hope and Trepidation

Israelis reacted to U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s visit here this week with a mixture of hopeful anticipation and trepidation.

In calls to radio talk shows and in overheated conversations among friends sipping cappuccino on Ben-Yehuda Street, ordinary Israelis said they are looking forward to a new, improved chapter in U.S.-Israel relations.

Yet while people here are excited about the possibility of starting a “clean slate” with the Clinton administration, they are wary about the unknown.

“Now that George Bush and James Baker are out of the picture, it will be interesting to see what the new administration will offer vis-a-vis the Middle East,” said David Hornstein, a real-estate broker in Jerusalem.

“I believe that Baker was very pro-Arab and that he personally didn’t like Jews very much. This came across in his dealings with the various governments in the region,” Hornstein said.

“Christopher, on the other hand, is pretty much a blank,” he said. “We’ll find out soon enough where he stands.”

While Hornstein assumed a “wait and see” attitude toward Christopher’s visit, he argued that “Israelis have to stand strong on the issue of the Golan Heights.”

Referring to a mass demonstration by Golan Heights residents and supporters, Hornstein said, “We need to show Clinton and Christopher that our security needs come first and that we need the Golan for security reasons.”

Golan resident Zehavah Shatsky said she was convinced the U.S. administration has already made up its mind on the issue of territorial compromise.

“I’m very worried that Christopher will put pressure on the Israeli government to give back the Golan,” she said. “Now more than ever, I feel as if the ground under my feet is shaky.

Tel Aviv book publisher Sarit Tinari was not quite as pessimistic.

“I’m glad Christopher has come,” she said, “because Israelis need to get to know the person behind the title. There’s a new American administration, so perhaps the relationship between Israel and the U.S. will improve.

“I hope that Clinton and Christopher will be more responsive to Israel’s needs than Bush and Baker were in the past,” she said.

Still, she said, “I can’t help but be concerned about the future role America will play in the peace process. I’m afraid that instead of acting in its traditional role as facilitator in the peace talks, it will try to interfere in the negotiations.

“While we can’t expect America to be our guardian angel,” Tinari said, “it doesn’t own us either. We’re an independent country, and only Israelis can know what is good for Israel.”

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