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ISRAEL

They Know Who's on Their Side

Sunday, October 24, 2004; Page B02

A recent headline in one of Israel's leading newspapers succinctly captured the country's position on the U.S. presidential elections: "The world opposes Bush, except Israel."

There is virtually no Bush-bashing in Israel, no lamenting that the U.S. administration's foreign policy is built on one-on-one relationships rather than on forging multilateral alliances. Many Israelis, like Amnon Yaakobi, a stationery shop owner, admire President Bush for the very traits that draw the ire of much of the rest of the world. "Look, Bush is like a schoolyard bully," said Yaakobi. "He is strong, he makes threats. . . . He is the type that we need in the American presidency."

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In an international poll taken by 10 newspapers in countries around the globe, Israelis gave Bush the strongest support by far. Fifty percent of Israelis polled by the daily newspaper Haaretz said they would prefer to see Bush elected president; 24 percent said they would favor John Kerry. Israelis were alone in believing the war against Saddam Hussein was not a mistake: Sixty-eight percent thought the United States was right to invade Iraq. Unlike every other nation in the survey, 40 percent of Israelis said their opinion of the United States has improved in the last three or four years.

"We don't look at the American president and ask, "Is he good for the U.S.?,' " Yaakov Gideon, a 50-year-old shoe shop owner, said between sips of coffee. "No, no, we want what is best for Israel. And hands down, Bush is the best for Israel." He went on to explain: "Bush has proved his fidelity to Israel over the past four years. He supports our fight against terrorism, and has gone to war against terrorism himself."

If, as the adage says, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then Bush is Israel's friend thrice over for he has taken a strong stand against Israel's greatest enemies -- Iraq's Saddam Hussein, the Iranian mullahs and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But the relationship reaches far deeper. Bush has conceded more to Israel than any U.S. president in history. He joined with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in isolating Arafat. Although he has committed to a Palestinian state, he has refused to support Palestinian bargaining positions, stating that in any final status agreements, Israel won't be required to accept 1967 borders and can keep certain Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He also said that his administration doesn't support a Palestinian right of return to areas they fled inside Israel.

Arab satellite TV networks juxtapose daily images of fighting in the Palestinian territories and Iraq, creating the perception -- fairly or unfairly -- that the United States and Israel stand together as occupiers of Muslim people in the Middle East.

That worries Anat Livenberg, a 36-year-old housewife and mother of three. "Bush is not so popular in the world," she said as she stood in line at a Jerusalem post office clutching the hand of her 5-year-old son. "If people hate Bush and America, they will hate us too, and this is not good for Israel, no matter what anyone says."

The U.S. campaign, while covered moderately in Israeli newspapers, has not engendered heated debate in a country that feels secure in its relationship with Washington regardless of who wins the election. Many Israelis agree with Sharon who said in a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post: "If John Kerry will be elected, or if George Bush is elected, I am sure that the policy will be that which was established by President Bush."

-- Molly Moore,

The Post's Jerusalem correspondent


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