Shortly before his visit to Washington, Israeli prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin harshly attacked lobbying efforts under way on Capitol Hill by Israelis opposed to any withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
“They are causing long-term damage to the State of Israel,” Rabin said, referring to Israelis rallying American opinion against the possible deployment of U.S. troops on the Golan Heights in the event of an Israeli-Syrian peace accord.
Rabin made these remarks last week at a news conference following his address to the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations here on Nov. 17.
In English-language remarks to reporters, Rabin took a low-key position against the lobbying effort, pointing to the 1,000 American soldiers already stationed in the Sinai as part of a multinational force observing compliance with the Israeli- Egyptian peace treaty.
Those soldiers do not constitute “a peacekeeping force like in Somalia or Sarajevo,” he said.
But responding in Hebrew to an Israeli journalist, the prime minister lashed out at the ongoing efforts on Capitol Hill as encouraging American isolationism.
“Imagine if that atmosphere prevailed during the (Persian) Gulf War,” he said. “The face of the Middle east would be different from end to end.”
An America unwilling to do on the Golan what it has been doing in the Sinai for 15 years “will be a different America with negative implications for the future of the Middle East.”
Rabin also spoke out against the lobbying effort in private remarks to major donors to the United Jewish Appeal.
Rabin’s remarks came against the backdrop of a new, potentially more hostile environment in Washington that is taking shape as Republicans start to spell out their agenda for the incoming Congress that they will dominate.
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the powerful conservative who is slated to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told interviewers on the CNN program “Evans and Novak” on Saturday that he is opposed to sending American troops to the Golan.
He criticized the whole effort at peace between Israel and Syria. “This whole peace process over there is a fraud,” Helms said. “Syria doesn’t want peace. They want the Golan Heights. They want access to the pocketbooks of the American taxpayers.”
At the G.A., Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu dissociated himself from the current lobbying efforts in Washington.
Addressing the CJF meeting the day after Rabin, Netanyahu said that lobbying on Israeli issues should take place in the Knesset, not on Capitol Hill.
And in subsequent remarks to journalists, he said that the Israelis spearheading the effort in Washington “are not members of the Likud.”
He was referring particularly to Yossi Ben Aharon, a former top aide to former Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir; Yigal Carmon, who served as Shamir’s adviser on counterterrorism; and Yoram Ettinger, a former congressional liaison in Israel’s Washington Embassy who was seen as being particularly close to Shamir. Netanyahu did allow he was not totally sure about Ettinger’s status as a party non-member.
“If I wanted to launch a lobbying effort on the Golan,” Netanyahu said, “I would have plenty of excellent talent. But I don’t want to do so.”
But in his address, the first delivered by a leader of the Israeli opposition to the CJF assembly, Netanyahu repeated the arguments being made in Washington by the Israeli right-wing lobbyists.
Disputing Rabin’s argument that the situation is comparable to the observers in the Sinai, and that what is being contemplated are relatively small numbers of observers, Netanyahu insisted that what would be required would be “not a thousand troops, but divisions with thousands of tanks.”
Earlier in his address, Netanyahu received moderate applause when he said, concerning withdrawal from the Golan Heights, “If we’re asked to exchange the effective non-belligerency we have today (with Syria) for a piece of paper, our defensive positions in exchange for a formal peace, I say no.”
Notwithstanding Netanyahu’s presentation, the CJF Board of Delegates adopted a resolution applauding “the bold policy” of Rabin and his government “to achieve peace, security, and to normalize relations between Israel and the Arab world.”
Also weighing in on the issue here was Vice President Al Gore. In his response to reporters’ questions following an address to the CJF meeting Friday, Gore said discussions of an American role on the Golan Heights was “quite premature.”
Responding to a poll conducted by the Middle East Quarterly showing that 64.3 percent of the American public opposed U.S. troops on the Golan, Gore said that if before the Camp David accords Americans had been polled “on the question of how many people are in favor of sending American troops to sit in the (Sinai) desert,” there would likely have been similar opposition.
“But that is not the case now after the risks and benefits are well- understood,” he said.
“I know there are disagreements in Israel, that it is a divisive issue,” he added. “But all I will say is the United States will be a good, faithful and strong partner for Israel, especially when Israel takes courageous steps to fight for peace.”