Election years are not especially good times for sensitive diplomatic maneuvering. Issues tend to be painted in stark terms on the hustings while they need to be discussed in shades of gray across the negotiating table. With both the United States and Israel embarking on national elections, the conflicting pressures of domestic politics and foreign policy are pushing both governments into extreme positions. The political intimacy and sense of common purpose that has marked the special relationship for several decades is dangerously frayed.
After initially promising to support another $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel so it can continue constructing housing for Soviet Jews who are fleeing their homeland, President Bush has raised the ante. He will not permit the guarantee to proceed unless Israel agrees to halt construction of new settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, territory occupied by Israel since 1967 but not recognized as part of that nation by the United States.
The President explains his decision, more than a little disingenuously, as simply a continuation of long-standing U.S. policy. It is correct that the U.S. has consistently opposed the settlements in the occupied territories pending a permanent peace settlement between Israel and its neighbors. But it is also a fact that the U.S. has limited its opposition to verbal warnings in the past. Now the administration is holding the loan guarantee hostage to Israeli compliance, a significant escalation.