JERUSALEM, DEC. 21 -- Despite U.S. support for a new United Nations resolution condemning Israeli behavior in the occupied territories, the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir believes its much-strained relations with the Bush administration are improving as tensions rise in the Persian Gulf, officials said today.
Shamir and other officials deplored the Security Council's unanimous vote Thursday for the resolution. One provision criticized Israel's recent deportation of four Palestinians, while a separate council statement supported the general idea of an international conference on the Middle East.
"We are dismayed by this resolution because it is one-sided and unjustified," said Avi Pazner, a senior adviser to Shamir.
At the same time, officials privately said U.S. efforts to soften the resolution had made it "tolerable" for Shamir. "This will simply be one more anti-Israeli U.N. resolution that will have no effect and will be filed in the vault with all the previous ones," Pazner said.
The government's low-key reaction to the third Security Council vote against Israel since October reflected a perception that Israel's relations with the Bush administration have rebounded in the wake of Shamir's visit to Washington this month. Several officials said the 75-year-old prime minister, who had been kept at arms length by Bush throughout the gulf crisis, returned with the impression that the U.S. administration wants Israel's support as it edges closer to war with Iraq.
Shamir came back "with a much better feeling about relations with America than any time in the last year," said a senior government official. He added, "We are not calling this a new beginning. The problems have not gone away. But at last we have the feeling there is a dialogue between the two governments."
After meetings with Bush, Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney, Shamir and his aides came away convinced that the administration is determined to win its confrontation with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, officials said. In this sense, they said, Israel and its U.S. supporters constitute a potentially valuable source of political and material backing for Bush's hard line against Saddam.
"There is no change in the views of the Bush administration" in its disputes with Shamir, said one official. "But in the gulf situation now, they want us on their side. There is an interest now in the administration to patch up the relationship, and we saw this very clearly. And this will go on now as long as the gulf crisis lasts."
Observers outside the government say Shamir's aides may be exaggerating the benefits of his Washington visit as a way of heading off incipient criticism that his right-wing government is destroying Israel's most important alliance. However, the latest government line contrasts markedly with that of a month ago, when some of Shamir's aides described Shamir and Bush as antagonists.
Relations between Israel and the United States plummeted earlier this year when Shamir balked at a U.S. plan to set up an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, and they worsened as Washington fashioned the alliance with Arab states against Iraq. Bush and Shamir did not speak between February and December, even though Bush placed countless calls to other Middle East leaders after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
Before Shamir's visit, Israeli officials openly worried that the United States was headed for a peaceful settlement of the gulf crisis that would ignore the continuing Iraqi military threat to Israel while opening the way to concerted international pressure on the Jewish state to make concessions to Palestinians. While those concerns remain, officials say they think such an outcome to the gulf crisis is now less likely.
The Associated Press added from the United Nations:
Arab nations let the General Assembly recess its autumn session without making their annual challenge against Israel's membership.
U.N. officials said privately that the Arabs apparently decided to drop the challenge because it would have complicated delicate diplomatic arrangements related to the Persian Gulf crisis.