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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

March 11, 2003

US Pressure on Israel


The question of US pressure on Israel to make concessions has been discussed on IsraPundit in several recent articles (e.g., March 6, March 8, March 9 and March 10). Generally, speculating as to whether the US will increase the pressure after the Iraq War ends (if it ever starts) is rather jejune, since our speculations have no effect on the way events will actually unfold. On the other hand, the speculation of the comforting soothsayers has a serious down side, for it may invite profound disappointment.

With this in mind, the object of the present piece is to document the extent of the US pressure on Israel over the last year. It would have been more useful, perhaps, to review the history of US pressure since the birth of Israel, highlighting such major points as the US pressure on Israel to evacuate the Sinai (1956-7), or the US pressure that derailed Israel’s 1982 operation in Lebanon, or the pressure on Israel to attend the Madrid Conference after Gulf War I. Postponing this long-term review for a future article, the present article concentrates on the last year alone, because the recent instances speak volumes about what Israel might expect in the near future.

Citing only publicly-accessible material (mainly web-based news stories), this article documents a series of cases in which Israel was subjected to US pressure time and time again. The review is by no means comprehensive, and numerous other instances could have been added. But even the random selection given below is sufficient to make this point - the US pressure on Israel is continual, relentless and irresistible.

The links to the source material are given if they are still operational; in other cases, the material is stored on my computer and may be available to readers upon request.

... And now, the details.

We begin the review in mid-March, 2002, exactly one year ago. On March 11, 2002, Ha'Aretz run a story entitled, U.S. concerned about Palestinian plight, which stated:

The American government is becoming increasingly concerned about the dire financial straits of the Palestinian population in the territories, and criticism of Israel's sieges and closures on Palestinian towns is being heard at all levels.
The treatment of the Palestinian population was a point of friction in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's talks with President George Bush in Washington on February 7. According to a source close to the administration, Bush demanded that conditions for the Palestinians be eased.
Bush apparently responded angrily by telling the prime minister that instead of busying himself with long-term plans, he should transfer the PA's frozen funds and allow its residents to go out to work.
It will be recalled that in the first months of 2002, the US was actively engaged in imposing on Israel a series of plans that called for concessions: the Mitchell Plan, the Tenet Plan and the Zinni Plan. With each successive emissary, the concessions demanded from Israel increased, and so did Arafat’s terror against Israel. As these pressures were being exerted, the Arab League was about to hold a summit in Beirut and Israel was considering whether to allow Arafat to attend. But even on this point the US did not hesitate to pressure Israel, as reported by the Jerusalem Post on March, 26 2002, in a news story entitled, Sharon to accept Zinni proposals, allow Arafat out :
Israeli diplomatic sources confirm the government is coming under heavy US pressure to allow Arafat to attend the summit.
In April, 2002, the US elevated the emissary level and increased the pressure one further notch, as Colin “show restraint” Powell arrived in the area. It will be recalled that at that time, the Arab violence escalated to unprecedented levels, and so did Israel’s self-defence measures. On April 08, 2002, Ha’Aretz reported as follows, in an piece entitled, IDF withdraws from Qalqilyah, Tul Karm ahead of Powell arrival:

In order to assist U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's mission to the region and as a response to U.S. President George W. Bush's repeated calls on Israel to withdraw without delay, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took the first step in pulling IDF troops out of the West Bank cities of Qalqilyah and Tul Karm.
Bush sent a message to Sharon on Monday demanding that he immediately begin withdrawing IDF troops from Palestinian towns in the West Bank which the army has occupied since Operation Defensive Wall was launched on March 30.
The U.S. also asked Israel on Monday to ease the isolation of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, and allow him to meet with his advisors to discuss U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni's cease-fire proposal.
Note this important element of this report: not only did the Bush administration take it upon itself to macro-manage Israel’s affairs, but in fact it now began to engage in micro-managing the IDF operations too. Talk about pressure!

The next step in US pressure was the quintessential weapon of withholding financial aid. At the end of April 2002, aid to Israel under the war against terrorist package was being discussed in Wahington; the Jerusalem Post reported on April 26, 2002 as follows, in an AP story entitled Bush administration opposes urgent aid to Israel:

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration opposes extra aid to Israel at a time of delicate Middle East diplomacy, a top official said Thursday, setting up a potential clash with Rep. Tom DeLay, the House Republican whip and a supporter of $200 million in hurry-up assistance to the Jewish state.
Ha’Aretz was even more blunt, reporting on April 29:
White House cancels $200 million extra aid for Israel

Israel's chance of receiving an additional $200 million American aid package in the coming financial year has diminished because of fears that additional aid to Israel at this time would be seen as a further pro-Israel bias, sources in Washington say.
As the Bush administration became increasingly involved in the Israel-Arab conflict, the “settlements” were singled out for special US opposition and pressure. Just ahead of the Bush speech on 24 June, which gave the official imprimatur to Arab sovereignty in Yesha, Condoleezza Rice made the following statement, reported by Ha’Aretz on June 16, 2002:
Rice repeated the U.S. government's opposition to settlements in the territories and added that Israel also has a responsibility to the conditions faced by Palestinians, including easing freedom of movement.
"Israel is going to have to do some very hard things," Rice said. "They're going to have to make some hard choices about how much it's ready for peace, too."
In October, 2002, Sharon was due to visit Bush in Washington, and ahead of the meeting, the US increased its pressure for even more concession. The US pressure concentrated on demands for Israel to withdraw from areas occupied in response to terror. The Jerusalem Post reported on Oct. 13, 2002:

The crux of the government's response to American pressure to ease Palestinian hardships became clear at Sunday's cabinet meeting: Additional measures will endanger security.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the cabinet the attempted attacks of the last few days demonstrate the dilemma: "Every time we open things up, the terrorists take advantage of this to carry out attacks against us."
US Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer delivered a sharp message to Sharon over the weekend, taking Israel to task for what the US said was its failure to implement humanitarian measures it had promised.
the US is reportedly pushing for a pullback from another West Bank city and turning security control over to the PA.
Another aspect of US pressure on Israel concerned the transfer of funds from Israel to the PA. Knowing that the frozen PA funds would be applied to increase terror against her, Israel withheld these funds, but the US considered it appropriate to extract yet another concession from Israel. On 11 December 2002, the Jerusalem Post reported:
Following drawn out negotiations and US pressure, the government transferred NIS 130 million in frozen tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority on Friday, the first of what are expected to be monthly installments
The US has been pressuring Israel hard on this issue, as one of the ways to ease the plight of the Palestinians. According to an Israeli official, the US wants to show that while it is not supportive of the current PA leadership, it is concerned with the plight of the Palestinian population.
The fund transfer met with objections raised by Israel’s security establishment, but Sharon’s political considerations prevailed. An Arutz 7 report on this point was posted on January 1, 2003:
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plans to resume the transfer of tax monies to the Palestinian Authority - despite objections by Israeli defense and security elements. The latter say that it is still Yasser Arafat who oversees the PA coffers, and that money given to the PA will be used to finance terror activities.
Hot on the heels of the US success in this scheme of coercion came the issue of allowing an Arab delegation from Yesha to attend the London Quartet conference. In response to Arab terror in Tel Aviv, the Israeli government decided to prevent the Arabs from attending the conference. This resulted in overt pressure from the EU, but being part of OLD EUROPE their pressure hardly merits discussion here. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that the US government too joined the fray, as the following Jerusalem Post story reported on January 9, 2003:

WASHINGTON - The White House said Thursday that Israel should be committed to the reform of Palestinian institutions, a reference to Israel's
decision to prevent some Palestinians from attending a conference next Tuesday in London aimed at furthering PA reform.

Asked if President George W. Bush had expressed any frustration in the way Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has prevented Palestinians from attending the conference, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday: "The president does believe -- and he talks to Prime Minister Sharon about this -- that it is very important for reform of Palestinian institutions to continue..."

Two weeks later, on 26 January 2003, Ha'Aretz reported about another declaration from Colin "show restraint" Powell:

Powell: Israel must offer Palestinians more than a 'phony state'
In remarks foreshadowing U.S. pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to make concessions for peace, Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Switzerland on Sunday that Israel must offer Palestinians more than a "phony state diced into a thousand different pieces."
The most recent salvo came in a little-noticed report in Ha’Aretz, entitled, Rice tells Netanyahu U.S. still not decided on aid package.
U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice called Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss Washington's questions about the financial aid package Israel has requested from the U.S. During the conversation, Rice said that a decision had still not been made on the issue.
Netanyahu described Israel's economic situation, and said that, unlike other countries, both Israel's government and the people of Israel supported the U.S. position, despite the fact that Israel could well be in the front line. He said that he hoped the U.S. would show its support of Israel in the economic sphere as well.
The financial whip, of course, is the ultimate weapon the US can wield against her loyal ally, and the US is using it right now. A very worrisome omen.

The last word goes to Claudia Rosett of the Wall Street Journal, who authored an article entitled 'Process' of Elimination - Why does America ask Israel to let its people get blown up? (December 18, 2002). Observing the pressure used by the US administration on Israel, she characterized the history of te US conduct as
the strange history of Washington-backed peace-processing, in which Israel at every turn has been urged to do something that the U.S. itself immediately foreswore after Sept. 11--negotiate, compromise and above all show "restraint" with terrorists and their sponsors.
In assessing the continual US pressure on Israel, one further point should be borne in mind. Everything quoted above comes from public domain sources; I shudder to think what goes on behind closed doors or in US-Israel communications that are not available puclicly.

Contributed by Joseph Alexander Norland. This piece is cross-posted on IsraPundit and Dawson Speaks.