Shamir Visit Seeks Support for Tough Negotiating Stance
ISRAELI Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir embarks today on a multicity tour of the United States that officials say is aimed at mending fences with Washington while seeking moral support and business investments from US Jewry.Though no dramatic results are expected from the 10-day visit, the recent launch of Middle East peace negotiations and Israel's pending request for $10 billion in US loan guarantees make it "a very important trip with a full agenda," says Gabriel Sheffer, an expert in US-Israeli relations at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. Mr. Shamir is due to meet President Bush, according to his aides, although no date has been fixed. "This is another stage in the process of healing wounds," says government spokesman Yossi Olmert. "This is a visit that should enhance the positives." Mr. Bush and Shamir are expected to discuss not only the venue for the forthcoming bilateral peace negotiations, but also Washington's role in future talks. While the Arab parties want to see a heavy American presence, Israel "does not expect the Americans to intervene in the talks," says Dr. Olmert. "From now on it's between us and the Arabs, and there is no meaning to the word 'cosponsors, he adds, referring to the US and Soviet role in convening the Madrid peace talks. The highlight of Shamir's meetings with Jewish groups around the country will come with his address to the general assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations in Baltimore next Thursday. He will be anxious to rally the support of American Jews not only for Israel's request for $10 billion in loan guarantees from the US administration, which is expected to prompt considerable debate in Congress, but also for Israel's negotiating position at the peace talks with its Arab neighbors. Though some observers here speculate that Shamir might be tempted to drag his feet in the peace talks, feeling that Bush's domestic political problems will distract his attention, Jewish leaders in the US are expected to caution him not to play off the US administration's declining popularity. Officials here are fearful that the US administration may be planning to link approval of the loan guarantees with a cessation of all Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories. Shamir knows, says Dr. Sheffer, "that there are very deep splits in the American Jewish community" over his aggressive settlement policy, "and he will want to mobilize support." Even so, a resolution by the Israeli parliament and statements by Shamir this week have underscored Israel's intention not to make any territorial compromises. In between his talks with Jewish organizations in Los Angeles, Boston, Baltimore, and New York, Shamir has scheduled meetings with Jewish business leaders. He will be urging them, say his aides, to invest in the Israeli economy and help provide jobs for some of the 300,000 Soviet Jews who have immigrated to Israel. The visit, Shamir's first to the US in a year, comes as passions are cooling after the fight last September over Israel's request for the loan guarantees to help fund the absorption of Soviet immigrants. Bush delayed consideration of that request until January, and complained about the strength of the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill. Bush met US Jewish leaders on Tuesday in a bid to improve relations, and their discussion "has very much taken the edge off the bad feeling" created by September's spat, says Harry Wall, the local head of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, one of the organizations at Tuesday's meeting. And Shamir, adds Mr. Wall, "can expect a much better reception this time than in past years. He has gone to Madrid, he has started a process, and he will be able to reap at least some dividends from that." But Bush made it clear he would make no move on the loan guarantees until January, preempting any request Shamir might have been contemplating, and made no promise to support the request when it does come up again. "I think Bush's meeting with the Jewish leaders was more important for its tone than for its substance," says Mr. Wall.