Toughness with Israel Helps US Image
PRESIDENT Bush's delay of action on the $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel should be understood in terms of how it translates in the Arab mind; how it affects the image of the United States in an area that is rich in resources and vital to US interests; and how this symbolic act might help the peace process.Since the Gulf war, the leaders of the countries that allied themselves with the US have tried very hard to change America's image in Arab eyes. They have worked diligently to present America as an honest broker rather than a party always biased in favor of Israel. Yet they have been faced with a populace which holds four distinct ideas about America: 1. US foreign policy concerning the Middle East is formulated in Israel, not in Washington. 2. The US does not see any moral offense in confiscating Arab lands, the destruction of Palestinian houses, or the daily killing of Palestinian youths and children. In fact, these acts are committed with American blessings and financed with American money. It is a common view in the Middle East that Israel not only cannot finance the occupation alone, but it cannot even feed itself. Indeed, if the aid that Israel gets from the US every year were distributed to each Israeli citizen, that income alone ($1, 000) would be higher than the per capita income of most Arab countries. The annual per capita income in the Sudan, for instance, is $300 and in Egypt it is $500. 3. Any negotiations with the US as a participant are actually going to be negotiations between the conservative wing of Likud and the liberal wing of the same party. That is, the position of the liberal Israelis (the Labor Party) is more sensitive to the Palestine need for a home than the American position is. 4. Even with the liberal changes in the Soviet Union, the US is still willing to see Jewish emigrants as people who are fleeing oppression and potential holocaust. Yet when it comes to the suffering of Palestinian Arabs, America looks the other way. All of these concepts are based on observable evidence. Against these strongly held views, Middle Eastern leaders are trying to convince their populace that the US is neutral. Thus the president's symbolic act of delaying action on the loan guarantee has helped as a face-saving mechanism for those who support a greater American role in the Middle East. With Bush's statement in hand, Arab allies may be able to convince an increasingly restive public that the US sees the confiscation of land as immoral and that consequently it is not willing to finance it. Since Baker's first visit to the area last March, the Israeli government has confiscated 35,000 acres of Palestinian land, which many Arabs see as evidence of America's continued tacit support for Israel, no matter how illegal its actions. The president's action indicates to Arabs that contrary to their previous conceptions, America's Middle East policy is formed in Washington, not Tel Aviv, and that America is capable of taking a moral stand against further confiscation of Arab land. It is against both the old imperialist image of the US in the Middle East and the necessity of peace that the delay of the loan guarantees should be judged - not against Israeli anxiety. After all, Israeli anxiety over the so-called "crisis of confidence between the US and Israel," although understandable, has no bearing in reality. If the US commitment to the state of Israel for the last 40 years has not convinced some hard-line Israelis and American Jews, will the immediate granting of the loans suddenly convince them? In addition, it is important to note that the president did not refuse such a loan guarantee; instead, he asked for a delay until January. In fact, some Arabs believe that after January the US will allow the money to go through, new settlements will be built, and Arabs then will have to negotiate the future of Jordan, not the occupied territories. For those who are dissatisfied with the president's move, it is imperative to understand that a semi-neutral US position is necessary for the peace process. It is only through gestures similar to the president's stance that the world's 180 million Arabs and 1 billion Muslims could be convinced that the "new world order" is moral and fair, and that there is some hope that such an order stands for the rights of the poor of the third world rather than blatant support for whomever is most Western and most te chnically advanced.
Mamoun Fandy, an analyst of Middle Eastern affairs, lives in Carbondale, Ill.