As Israel's election season moves into high gear, one key question now emerging is how much is the Bush administration planning to impose itself and its preferences on the Israeli electorate? There are three sides to the question's increasing centrality.
The first is historic. The US has had an unfortunate habit of meddling in Israeli elections ever since the current president's father, George H. W. Bush, played a central role in getting Yitzhak Rabin and his leftist Labor party elected to office in 1992. Back then, Bush pere insinuated himself into the election campaign by abjectly refusing then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir's requests to provide Israel with $10 billion in loan guarantees to enable the country to absorb some one million Jews from the former Soviet Union.
In 1996, then US president Bill Clinton and his advisers went one step further. In attempting to secure Shimon Peres's election over Likud challenger Binyamin Netanyahu, Clinton came to Israel and actively campaigned for Peres. Alas for Clinton, Palestinian terrorism proved the decisive factor in bringing Netanyahu over the hump and securing his narrow win over Peres.
In the 1999 elections, when Netanyahu faced off against Labor leader Ehud Barak, Clinton and his associates took no chances. Dispensing with even a fig leaf of propriety, Clinton sent his own election advisers to Israel to manage Barak's entire campaign. Bob Schrum, James Carville and Stanley Greenberg created a campaign for Barak based on fragmenting the Israeli electorate and prevaricating about Barak's agenda.
They were successful. The Israeli electorate catapulted Barak to power.
REFRESHINGLY, in the 2001 and 2003 elections, the current Bush administration refrained by and large from siding with any party. This non-interference in the democratic processes of the Israeli electorate was perhaps the clearest indication of its friendly intentions and respect for the Jewish state. Today that fine tradition of stepping back and allowing the democratic chips to fall where they may seems to have ended. Since Ariel Sharon broke off from the Likud and formed Kadima at the end of November, the administration has made it self-evident that it wants a Kadima victory and is willing to do a great deal to ensure that such a victory comes about. Since Sharon's second stroke two weeks ago, Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have made it clear that in Sharon's absence they want Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to form the next government.
WHICH BRINGS us to the second side of US interference in Israeli elections. The notable aspect of this meddling is that when it occurs, the US sides only with the Left. The question is why?
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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