Ten years ago the slogan "Money for the settlers, or money for the weak," topped the political agenda on the eve of elections. At the time the right-wing prime minister Yitzhak Shamir refused to freeze the settlement enterprise, despite American threats to hold back $10 billion in loan guarantees to help with the absorption of new immigrants.
Then too the prime minister's rival on the left, Yitzhak Rabin, promised "to reorder the priorities" of both the political and security, and the economic and social agendas.
Then too, in the context of a coming conflict in the Gulf, the United States was especially keen on promoting a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. And then too, Israel's settlement policy stood in direct confrontation with that of the United States and its interests in the region.
There is one essential difference between Washington 1992 and Washington 2002, and this difference will have a decisive influence on the elections in Israel and on the fate of the country in the years to come.
Ten years ago, then U.S. president George Bush Snr. forced the Shamir government to decide which it deemed more important - the expansion of its settler citizens or the welfare of its weaker ones; close ties with the White House or with the Yesha Council of Jewish Settlements of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District.
The cry that this was an intervention in Israel's internal affairs was of no help to the Likud leaders. The plethora of rabbis and party bureaucrats who flocked to Capitol Hill were also unable to budge the president from his position that Israel can no longer eat the territory cake and keep its relations with (and aid from) the United States whole.
This sharp message helped tens of thousands of voters to drift into Rabin's arms. A harsh grating of this kind on the Jerusalem-Washington axis was enough to return the Labor Party to power.
Today, not only is the United States not even bothering to voice discontent with the outposts, the Bush administration is speaking to the settlement government about an increase in financial aid. No one in Washington kicked up much of a fuss on hearing Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement concerning the freezing of the "road map." In fact, the father of the map, Secretary of State Colin Powell himself, was quick to bestow his wishes for success on Israel's new foreign minister.
Sharon has informed his ministers that U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield will hold his upcoming round of talks in Jerusalem with officials and officers only. So as to refrain from hinting, heaven forbid, at the possibility of a conflict with the right-wing government, Washington has announced that Satterfield is being sent to the region in connection with the meeting of the donor countries and will not be dealing with the road map at all.
The White House is also making sure its officials even play down their rage over Israel's foot-dragging with regard to freeing of monies for the Palestinian Authority - a personal promise that Sharon made to Bush during the prime minister's last visit to Washington. The reporters have stopped asking for the reactions of the U.S. administration's spokespersons to the "liquidations."
There are those (Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, for example) who contend that this honeymoon period with the Israeli right will last as long as the war in the Gulf. In their opinion, after the Arabs help to get rid of Saddam Hussein, Bush will not hesitate to repay them in Israeli currency.
Others (most military and political analysts) argue that Bush's significant achievement in the elections to the Congress and the presidential race will perpetuate America's minimum-intervention policy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - a policy that has earned Bush the support of most of the Jewish apparatchiks and their allies among the Christian right wing.
What interest does Bush have in upsetting the masses of right-wing supporters in the community, which, since September 11, has stood up on his side through its voters and money? Moreover, the last thing Bush needs is for a terrorist to blow himself up in Kfar Sava an hour after demanding that Sharon choose between settlements and guarantees.
Bush's world is divided along "the axis of evil" - those who support him and those who are joining the war against him. In the talks currently taking place in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah, the European Union, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are making efforts to move the Palestinians to the final square on the board. Only an open, brave and clear-cut declaration condemning terror (against the settlers too) - one that can withstand provocations - will awaken the United States from its slumber.
And if not, three months without terror could offer the chance for a new agenda - without favors from America.
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