Reading Between the Lines

24

The following editorial in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald takes a very anti-Israel/Sharon government position.

Democracy and the Middle East

Democracy is tugging at the Middle East; American democracy. The considerable political influence of the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States inextricably links the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace process to America’s political cycle. As next year’s US presidential election looms, the Bush Administration can be expected to turn its energies back to the domestic arena, despite imposing a financial penalty on Israel last week over illegal Jewish settlements and the construction of a contentious “security wall” in the West Bank.

Logically, Washington should be in the box seat. This year, the US will provide Tel Aviv with about $US4 billion ($5.54 billion) in direct military aid and an additional $US9 billion in loan guarantees, to bolster a battered Israeli economy. This specific leverage, as well as Washington’s traditional role as protector of the Jewish state, suggests the views of the US President, George Bush, should resonate rather loudly in Tel Aviv. And, mostly they do.

Certainly, it was Mr Bush’s belated interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – at the behest of Washington’s Iraq war ally, Britain – which revived the peace process earlier this year and pushed Israel’s hardline Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to acknowledge, for the first time, a future Palestinian state. Mr Bush chose his recent visit to Britain to urge restraint from both sides and to warn Israel to “end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people”. Yet this time, Mr Sharon has simply reneged on his promise to dismantle up to 100 Jewish settlements inside Palestinian territories, a key condition of the US-sponsored “road map” to peace.

The US-led invasion of Iraq has cost Mr Bush domestic support. His approval rating of 71 per cent in March has slipped to barely 50 per cent. At the same time there is broad support for Israel in the US, and empathy for the victims of Palestinian terrorism, not only among Jews but among conservative Christians.

The $US289 million penalty imposed on Israeli last week means the Bush Administration understands the need to distance itself from Israel’s belligerence, which is feeding Islamic extremism elsewhere. The penalty, however, is a token gesture. Mr Sharon’s attitude, however, suggests he recognises his window of opportunity to resist, for a while longer, the compromises the “road map” demands.

With the US opinion polls so delicately balanced, Mr Sharon is counting on one enduring reality of American politics. That is, too much pressure on Israel risks alienating the American pro-Israeli lobby. That, in turn, could cost Mr Bush re-election.

What is very telling to me is the writer’s repeated mention of Tel Aviv in reference to the Israeli government, even though the Knesset is located in Jerusalem. Seems to be indicative of his or her own opinion that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel, but rather the capital of a future PLO Arab state.

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An Aussie immigrant to Israel, David Lange is founder and managing editor of Israellycool. He is a happy family man, and a lover of steak, Australian sports and single malt whisky.