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Behind the Headlines the Transformation of Jesse Helms


One of the most interesting developments of 1985 in Washington was the transformation of Sen. Jesse Helms (R. N. C.) from someone considered unfriendly to Israel to a strong supporter of the Jewish State. In fact, Helms, like several other conservative Senators and many in the Christian Right, believes Israel should maintain control of the West Bank.

Helms explains his new position in an article in the upcoming winter issue of “Policy Review,” the quarterly published by the Heritage Foundation, the Washington-based conservative think tank. Entitled “A Baptist Deacon Reflects on American Policy Toward Israel,” Helms notes that when his wife, Dorothy, visited Israel in 1972, at the time he was first running for the Senate, she slipped a prayer on a piece of paper into the Western Wall that he should win. He won the election and the next two.

But more to the point, the Helms article describes his first visit to Israel last spring at the invitation of Sen. Chic Hecht (R. Nev.) to join Hecht and his brother, Marty, in the dedication of a new synagogue at the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus in honor of Hecht’s 96-year-old father.

“We decided to follow in the footsteps of the patriarchs,” starting in Hebron and visiting Judaea and Samaria, Helms recalls. “This area called the West Bank is the heart of ancient Israel, the very land that the Bible is all about.”


Helms goes on to note: “It is ironic that modern Israel is crammed along the seashore, where in biblical times, the Philistines and Canaanites lived; while biblical Israel, the homeland of the Jews, is the very territory which the U.S. State Department wants the Jews to leave.”

But Helms also argues that Israel needs the territories for security. He criticizes the U.S. position of returning territory for peace and leaving the West Bank under Palestinian authority in association with Jordan.

“There is no piece of paper sufficiently strong to uphold regional arrangements that do not meet the dictates of common sense,” he wrote. “The animosity of the neighboring Arab countries does not spring from concern over the present inhabitants of the socalled West Bank, or the fact that Israel exercises administrative and military control over that territory. The animosity springs from the fact that Israel proper exists. Concessions on the West Bank territory would only whet the appetite of animosity, not appease it.”

Helms sees the strategy of King Hussein of Jordan in the current peace process as aimed at “imposing indefensible boundaries on Israel.”

Thus, Helms neither supports the Administration’s peace process nor does he think its efforts to bring about negotiations is desirable. “It is not enough to say that Israel would never agree willingly to conditions that would result in its annihilation,” he stresses. “The United States might pressure Israel into agreements that otherwise would not have been accepted.”

Helms takes his argument further and notes that as a result of the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty, the U.S. has doubled its aid to Israel and tripled aid to Egypt. “The contributions to these two countries are a barely disguised attempt to buy peace — to repay Israel for the massive costs of meeting the Camp David agreement, and to give Egypt a basis for standing up to the rest of the Arab world,” he argues.

Helms, who has continually opposed all foreign aid, adds that this high level of support to Israel results in compromising “the recipent’s freedom of action.” He charges that this “is just the way that the State Department wants it. They seem to want servile allies eating out of our hand, rather than allies that make a positive contribution to cooperation on major policies.”

The U.S. must not set preconditions that would make Israel’s security dependent on Arab goodwill nor provide U.S. funds to Arabs to ensure that goodwill, Helms stresses.

“Certainly, the just rights of the Arab inhabitants to their homes, their properties, their culture and their religion must be upheld,” he says.

“No one can imagine that the Arab Palestinians would meet the fate that Jews met in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt or Morocco. It would not be difficult to design a just settlement that does not include sovereignty or ‘association with Jordan.’ And if mere justice is not enough for some disaffected individuals, political rights can easily be exercised to a fuller degree in East Palestine, i.e. Jordan.”

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