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Era of Automatic US Assistance To Israel May Be Drawing to Close

American base of support for Jerusalem is eroding, analysts say

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WHEN Israel's interests are on the line, the legendary American lobby that represents it is usually unstoppable. Buoyed by a huge reservoir of American friendship for Israel, it has won more foreign aid from Congress, and on better terms, than any nation in history.

But Israel and its American friends have suddenly hit a wall of resistance. Despite months of urgent appeals, the Bush administration is still sitting on a request to underwrite a $10 billion loan to settle immigrating Soviet Jews. When and if it finally decides to go along, it is sure to be at a price Israel will find hard to swallow.

Israel's uphill battle on the issue of loan guarantees is partly the fault of an ailing United States economy. Generosity abroad is simply harder to sell now. But beyond the recession lie deeper problems that suggest the possible end of an era of automatic largess for Israel. "There continues to be a base of support for Israel, but that base is under constant attack and constant erosion," says a prominent political analyst in Washington.

The US has told Israel that it would insist on a halt to the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip before it would agree to any loan guarantees. Israel says it will slow, but not stop, settlements. (Israel's quiet shift, Page 6.) Under terms offered by the US, Israel would be free to complete up to 9,000 housing units already under construction in the territories but would deduct from the total amount of the loan guarantees the costs of final construction.

For now at least, the tangible effects of the slow, perhaps temporary, decline in US public support for Israel are not likely to extend beyond the issue of loan guarantees.

One reason: What counts in Congress, in the end, is not public opinion but lobbying, which pro-Israeli groups still do with consummate skill. Even so, some American Jews note that weakening loyalties to Israel coincide with a shrinking economy at home. They are worried that if current trends persist, the size and terms of Israel's annual $3 billion foreign-aid package could also come under closer scrutiny. Concern about limits

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