There have been hints in recent days that the Bush administration may be distancing itself from hard-line Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon because of the coming U.S. presidential campaign. “For Sharon, having Bush as a friend is everything,” Yoel Marcus wrote in Ha’aretz, the dovish Israeli paper, last week. “But there is mounting annoyance in Washington over the fact that Sharon is taking advantage of Bush’s friendship to avoid making concessions that could boost the president’s plan. Sharon is expanding settlements and using the fence to annex more land. He has offered nothing in return for this camaraderie. Bush’s strategists feel he is becoming a liability and could harm the president’s bid for re-election.”
Resentment apparently is continuing to seep out. On Monday, “senior U.S. officials” told Israeli media that relations between the two countries “were approaching a crisis due to the policy of Sharon’s government” and that “Sharon is ignoring the Bush administration’s messages.”
Israel’s most ardent supporters in the U.S. are fighting back, but there are even cracks there. Last week two politically conservative U.S. groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America, attacked Secretary of State Colin Powell for his approving remarks about the latest peace plan, the so-called Geneva Accord. The ZOA said Powell was backing a “rogue operation,” and later went after Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz (a big supporter of Israel) for his support of a similar peace plan.
Then the ADL’s Abraham Foxman ripped UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s support for the Geneva Accord, terming Annan’s stance “an arrogance which borders on disrespect for the Jewish state.”
This is a tricky situation for Bush, who depends on the pro-Israel Christian right, numbering some 19 million, as his political base in a tight presidential election. The fundamentalists, who often see the very creation of Israel as a sign of the Second Coming, will back Israel no matter what. At this stage, Bush can scarcely want to antagonize such an important political bloc. But the president may have no choice but to get into the Israeli-Palestinian fight in the upcoming campaign. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a leading Democrat from California—a state Bush must win—is urging the government to support the Geneva Accord and push the peace proposal. “Worldwide, this crisis remains the rallying cry for Muslim extremists,” she told a group of Middle East experts. “I don’t believe that waiting for a cessation of all terrorist attacks makes sense. The absence of hope on the Palestinian side, the diminution of the well-being of Palestinian people have just put the level of fanaticism as high as I have ever seen it in my lifetime, and it doesn’t make sense to continue this way.”
Perhaps most importantly, George Soros, the aging billionaire financier and philanthropist who has donated $15.5 million to oust Bush, told the Jewish Funders Network recently, as reported by the Forward, that “the policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute” to the “resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.” According to the Forward, Soros added, “If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish.”
Soros hardly had love for the current White House anyway. He has charged that “supremacist ideology” guides the White House,” adding, “When I hear Bush say, ‘You’re either with us or against us,’ it reminds me of the Germans.”
Additional reporting: Sheelah Kolhatkar, Ashley Glacel, and Alicia Ng