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News Analysis: Repairing Relations with U.S. is at the Top of Rabin’s Agenda

July 1, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

While Yitzhak Rabin has yet to assemble a workable coalition government, Israelis and American Jews alike are already counting on him to mend the country’s tattered relations with Washington.

They see the emerging government’s thinking on issues of peace and security as much closer to Washington’s perspective than that of Yitzhak Shamir’s outgoing government.

And they believe the personal chemistry between George Bush and Rabin, a former ambassador to Washington, will be much smoother than it was between the American president and the “other Yitzhak.”

Observers caution that while Rabin can be expected to enjoy a lengthy honeymoon with President Bush — certainly until the U.S. presidential election in November — the two do not necessarily see eye to eye on the Middle East peace process.

But for now, the expectation here, and not only among Labor supporters, is that the basic government-to-government relationship will dramatically improve.

Bush’s warm words about Rabin on Monday were received with a pervasive sense of gratification by Israelis, for whom the American leader’s less-than-close relationship with Shamir and outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Arens was an open secret.

Speaking in New York at a luncheon for Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), the president said he was “confident that we can work with that new Israeli government to deepen our partnership, to promote our common objective of peace with security for Israel.”


The first tangible expression of the change for the better is expected to be a move by Washington toward fulfilling Israel’s request for guarantees covering $10 billion in loans needed to help absorb immigrants from the old Soviet Union.

Bush has already indicated that Rabin will soon be invited to visit America. Both men presumably will be interested in using that occasion to announce U.S. agreement to at least part of the Israeli request.

For Bush, in trouble in his own election campaign, there could be no better way to appeal to Jewish voters alienated by his ongoing feuding with Shamir.

But the visit to the White House or the president’s Kennebunkport vacation home will be more than just an opportunity for the two politicians to gratify their respective electorates.

Observers expect intense and detailed discussion of the peace process, which has gone nowhere in particular since the opening conference in Madrid.

Rabin is committed to reaching agreement with the Palestinians on autonomy within nine months. Bush would obviously wish to assist in achieving as much as possible of that progress before his own Election Day in November.

But the two sides do not see eye to eye on the shape of the final peace agreement with the Palestinians. Nor do they agree on the disposition of the Golan Heights, which Rabin says is not at the top of his list of priorities.

There also probably will be disputes in the months ahead over details of the autonomy plan.

But on the broad concept of striving hard now for an autonomy accord leading to a five-year interim period of Palestinian self-rule, there is a profound desire in Washington to help Rabin make it happen.

This in itself represents a veritable sea change in the substance of the Washington-Jerusalem relationship.


Whether or not Shamir meant what he was quoted as telling the Israeli daily Ma’ariv last week — that he had intended to drag out the autonomy talks for 10 years — there is little doubt that in the White House and State Department, he was suspected of trying to do just that.

This suspicion of the Israeli premier’s motives regarding the peace process lay at the root of the troubled relationship. That has now changed, and hence there are high hopes here in Jerusalem that the whole tenor of the relationship will change with it.

Not surprisingly, Rabin’s first move toward accelerating the peace process was warmly greeted by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.

Rabin said Tuesday, in his first public speech since the election: “We must move now to have a continuous negotiation” with the Arab states and Palestinians. “Let’s sit down — not every four, five, six weeks.”

In Washington, Baker responded that he was “very pleased to see the statement by Mr. Rabin saying let’s engage, and let’s stay engaged and get something done.”

The new era in U.S.-Israeli relations is likely to be shepherded by a new cast of characters than those put in place by Shamir, say political observers in Jerusalem.

While Israel, unlike the United States, has no tradition of switching ambassadors with every new administration, both Zalman Shoval, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, and Yoram Aridor, the envoy to the United Nations, are political appointees and are expected to step down.

Aridor, in fact, has already informed his party that he wants to leave his post.

Strongly tipped to replace the Washington envoy is veteran Labor Knesset member Gad Ya’acobi, a former Cabinet minister who was 45th on the Labor list this time and therefore just missed getting back into the parliament.


And the personnel changes in Washington could extend well beyond the embassy gate, if the Israeli press is to be believed.

In an illustration of the media’s sense that an old order has passed, the Labor-affiliated daily Davar called this week in an editorial for a shakeup at the top of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the key pro-Israel lobby.

The paper, which will take on renewed importance now that Labor is back in power, believes AIPAC’s present leadership has been promoting a Likud line in excess of what pro-Israeli loyalty requires.

Similarly, the left-leaning Ha’aretz carried a front-page story this week reporting that pressures were now mounting for “changes at the top” of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Specifically, the story said that the umbrella group’s executive director, Malcolm Hoenlein, was perceived as having drawn the organization much closer to the Likud than was required or warranted by its traditional support for the government of the day in Israel.

Hoenlein denied the reports, telling Israel Radio on Tuesday that neither Labor nor U.S. Jewish leaders were interested in his dismissal.

“We work with the government of Israel,” he said. “It is true that I work with the premier’s office,” said Hoenlein. But he added that this was true when Labor’s Shimon Peres was prime minister as well.

In New York, Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, one of the more dovish constituents of the Conference of Presidents, also dismissed the report.

The Ha’aretz story further speculated that Shoshana Cardin, who chairs the conference, would be replaced when her term expires at the end of the year by AJCongress President Robert Lifton, described by the paper as “close to Yitzhak Rabin.”

But Siegman said that as far as he knew, Lifton was not campaigning for the post.

Regardless of the truth of these stories, their prominence in the Israeli press is note-worthy in and of itself. By paying attention to American Jewish politics during the post-election frenzy of coalition bargaining, Israel is certifying that Washington tops Israel’s international agenda.

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