Netanyahu's first call Washington visit: U.S. Israel alliance transcends disagreements

July 10, 1996

IN THE WORDS of President Clinton, "the historic relationship between the United States and Israel has not and will not change." Or in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's words, it "transcends personalities and politics and parties."

That is the agreed context in which they will disagree and their policies will differ. Such prioritizing was the chief product of the new Israeli prime minister's first visit to Washington as a foreign leader rather than as a lower level official or as an American, which he nearly was.

This needed to be achieved. Mr. Clinton had visibly opposed Mr. Netanyahu's election and was committed to the continued peace policy of the defeated Prime Minister Shimon Peres. This produced almost a mirror image of British Prime Minister John Major's opposition to Mr. Clinton's election casting a pall on their relations that lasted longer than one summit visit. But just as Britain and the United States have a fundamental relationship transcending any policy and personality difficulties, so do Israel and the United States.

Both men agree on the need for peace with security between Israel and all its neighbors. tinue. Mr. Netanyahu won election stressing the security component. Mr. Netanyahu's general language while here is certainly satisfactory. In the press conference that followed his meeting with Mr. Clinton, he would not be pinned down on specifics. What the two men may have decided in privacy is not clear.

But the United States should continue to press for Israeli troop redeployment from Hebron, for restraint on settlements in the West Bank and for meaningful negotiations between Israel and the PLO on the final status of the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Netanyahu might silently welcome such pressure. A meaningful, confidence-building first step would be reopening Israel's borders to Palestinian labor. Note that Mr. Netanyahu has never categorically refused to meet Yasser Arafat, has merely shown a lack of enthusiasm that is understandable.

The United States should also encourage a positive approach toward peace between Israel and Syria, but should not assume that Israel or Mr. Netanyahu is the current obstacle. President Hafez el Assad has never come off the fence on the side of peace and Mr. Netanyahu's list of Syrian-encouraged terrorist acts requires genuine study. A satisfactory start in Clinton-Netanyahu relations has been made.

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