No need for ‘hysteria’ over crisis with US, says Shoval

Israel's former US ambassadors says Ramat Shlomo criticism is not "a historical development."

March 16, 2010 04:17
2 minute read.
zalman shoval 88

zalman shoval 88. (photo credit: )

This, too, shall pass. That, at least, is former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval’s assessment of the current crisis in US-Israeli relations.

Shoval served two stints in Washington, from 1990-1993, and 1998-2000, neither period necessarily a “golden age” in US-Israel relations. The more difficult period, obviously, was the first. That was when then Secretary of State James Baker gave his telephone number at a congressional hearing, and said Israel should call him when it was ready for peace; and when, a few months later, the first President George Bush characterized himself as “one lonely, little guy” standing up to “something like a thousand” pro-Israel lobbyists working on the Hill against the administration’s holding up loan guarantees to absorb Russian immigrants because of construction in the settlements.

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“We have seen crises in the past,” said Shoval, who took issue with Israeli envoy Michael Oren’s reported comment to Israeli consuls-general in the US that the current crisis was the worst one since the threat of a reassessment of ties by the Ford administration in 1975.

“I am not hysterical about this,” Shoval said. “I don’t share the view that this is a historical development.”

Shoval said that both the 1975 crisis, when the US demanded a partial Israeli redeployment from the Sinai, and the loan guarantee crisis, “passed pretty quickly.”

In neither case, he pointed out, did the Israeli leaders – Yitzhak Rabin in 1975 or Yitzhak Shamir in 1991 – give in to the demands of the US, yet the relationship prevailed.

He did point out, however, that the loan guarantee crisis was solved when Shamir lost the elections in 1992 and Rabin took over. Despite the strain in the ties during the Shamir-Bush era, however, Shamir did not back down and stop settlement construction in the West Bank. Nevertheless cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem continued, in large degree because Baker needed Shamir’s cooperation in putting together the Madrid peace conference.

“The bottom line is that despite the occasional down, the relationship has always been going the other way – upward – in real terms,” Shoval said. “I have every confidence that the same thing will happen in the current crisis.”

But Shoval had counsel: “Everybody, on all sides, would be well advised to engage more in the real matters of the relationship, and less in public declarations and pronouncements.”

 Shoval advised Netanyahu to “play it wisely, not to engage in rhetoric” with the US, even if there have been incendiary comments.

Shoval refrained from saying whether Netanyahu should give in to the US dictates – that he rollback the Ramat Shlomo plan, make significant “confidence building measures” to the Palestinians, and deal with all the “core issues” in the proximity talks – beyond saying that dealing with all the tough issues up front would guarantee the breakup of the talks, and that Israel has already made many gestures to the Palestinians.

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