Bay Areas ambivalent doves worry despite agreement

I was visiting Jerusalem in 1977 when Anwar Sadat made his historic visit, opening the possibility of peace. As he landed, the Israelis on the streets and in their homes were crying and laughing together.

But even the tears, laced as they were with memories of past tragedy, were tears of elation. It was a rare display of public happiness. When I returned to San Francisco, I noticed the same mood among the area's Jews.

That is not exactly the mood here today, following the signing of last week's Wye Memorandum. While Bay Area Jews are more pleased than not about the agreement, they are also wary.

The key to the current mood can be found in the attitudes that Bay Area Jews have consistently displayed in surveys taken in recent years.

On the one hand, about 70 percent of Bay Area Jewish federation members want the Israeli government to "try to work more closely with Arafat" in the pursuit of peace. At the same time, about 70 percent say that "you can never trust the PLO to make a real peace with Israel."

In Brandeis University's most recent national survey, these types of Jews are labeled "ambivalent doves." They agree with the majority of Israelis that the negotiation of land for peace is necessary; but they do not finally trust that Arafat and the PLO will honor such a peace.

This excruciating skepticism has grown during the recent years of terrorist attacks and the growth of extremist Palestinian groups dedicated to Israel's extinction — regardless of what may be formally excised from the Palestinian national covenant.

After all, Sadat came to Jerusalem at the point when he decided that Israel could not be defeated militarily and that the United States would not abandon Israel. It was Israel's strength, backed by America, which made peace possible, not any touchy-feely negotiations.

The peace axiom raises another factor in the world today that adds to the skepticism. Only about a quarter of Bay Area Jews surveyed believe that "Israel can defend itself without American help." But is America's capacity to provide that help as strong as it once was?

Actually, Israel needs no help to defend itself militarily against the Palestinians. Most Israelis say they are much less concerned about the threat of the Palestinians than about the threat of Iran, Iraq and other unfriendly Arab regimes.

America provides the deterrence to those regimes and diplomatic support against the weight of the pro-Palestinian U.N. General Assembly. It should be noted that Israel is still the only nation prohibited from serving on the U.N. Security Council.

Most area Jews — about two-thirds of federation members — believe that "the United States will never abandon Israel." But abandonment is not the issue. The concern is whether Am8erica's position of leadership in the world is weakening. One test is Iraq.

Make no mistake, most Bay Area Jews are surely pleased that some interim Israeli-Palestinian agreement has been reached. But the hardest part is yet to come if land is transferred, a Palestinian state is founded and Israeli security is not forthcoming.

Then, according to the present plan, the United States will be put to the test. If America is losing its leadership edge and resolve, then we are all in trouble. This is where and why America's Jews must remain focused on Israel.