Pressure on Israel
During the course of a Knesset committee meeting on June 3, MK Hanan Porat, of the National Religious Party, challenged Prime Minister Netanyahu's plan to transfer tax money to the Palestinian Authority; Porat proposed suspending the transfer of such funds until the PA suspends its policy of murdering Arabs who sell land to Jews.
The Prime Minister's response was fast and furious--and revealing. According to the Israeli daily Ma'ariv, Netanyahu shouted: "You are insane! You want to get me in trouble with a U.S. president during his second term?"
Netanyahu's outburst confirmed what many observers have long suspected: the government's decisions are based on pressure from the Clinton administration.
The first signs became evident last summer. After his initial visit to the U.S. in July --a get-acquainted meeting where nobody expected any pressure from the administration-- Netanyahu scheduled a second visit for September 9. U.S. officials made it clear that if he wanted to meet with President Clinton, he would have to demonstrate that "progress" was being made in the "peace process" by meeting with Yasir Arafat.
Netanyahu had been refusing to meet Arafat until the PLO stopped violating the Oslo accords. But in the face of U.S. pressure, Netanyahu dropped his demand for PLO compliance and met Arafat on September 4. Secretary of State Warren Christopher boasted: "I encouraged him to begin planning to meet with Chairman Arafat, and this is the culmination of it."
Netanyahu paid the price, and got his September 9 meeting with Clinton. But what did the visit accomplish? Netanyahu claimed he had strengthened ties with American Jewry, improved relations with President Clinton, and reached unspecified "understandings" with the administration regarding the PLO and Syria.
The "understandings" didn't last long. Earlier in the year, on the eve of the Israeli elections, Clinton had made clear his preference for Shimon Peres. Arafat understood this as an indication that the U.S. would be cool, even cold, to a Netanyahu administration. By
September, Arafat was ready to test that assumption. For his pretext, he chose the opening of a second entrance to an old Jerusalem tunnel. Guns supplied to the Palestinian Authority by Israel were turned on Israeli troops, as three days of Arab rioting in late September left 15 Israeli soldiers dead.
The U.N., moving with the kind of speed associated only with Israel-Arab matters, rushed to chastise Israel for the bloodshed. The Clinton administration refused to take Israel's side; the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Madeleine Albright, abstained in the vote.
At the same time, Dennis Ross was on the phone, summoning Netanyahu to Washington to meet with Arafat. Under obvious U.S. pressure to make the meeting a 'success," Netanyahu gave Arafat a warm, dramatic, two-handed handshake. President Clinton's statement at the post-summit press conference contained no condemnation of the violence, and no pledge by Arafat to renounce violence as a negotiating tool.
Instead, much to Arafat's delight, Clinton demanded that within 45 days, Israel and the PLO should reach an agreement to pull out of Hebron.
During the ensuing weeks, the U.S. made sure that Israel felt the heat. Instead of openly pressuring Netanyahu, the administration used "quiet" tactics to send its message. Eight former Secretaries of State and other U.S. officials publicly condemned Israel--obviously with a nod from the White House. When Israel removed discriminatory economic restrictions from the Jewish settlements, the administration made it clear that it was unhappy. And the U.S. ambassador in Israel, Martin Indyk,
(Continued on p.11)