JOHN CONNALLY HAS PLAYED his cards. He has exposed the hand he plans to use in his bid to capture the Republican nomination for president. In his speech last week to the National Press Club he proposed linking American policy in the Middle East to the price of oil--a clear anti-Israel stance. This political gamble will certainly infuriate Jewish organizations, and, more importantly, will damage American interests in the Middle East.
Connally claims he is the first candidate to offer Israel a defense treaty. All Israel has to do is return to the pre-1967 war borders by giving the Arabs the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Jerusalem--in other words, everything they want. In return, Israel would receive a guarantee of American military presence in the Sinai and the Indian Ocean. Connally was so proud of the fairness of his proposal that he made sure extra copies were distributed to Jewish organizations and communities.
Connally grounds his views in nationalism: we should begin to support policies based on "American Interests"--not on the interests of the Jewish lobby. This logic makes the entire proposal invidious. Connally charges that unpatriotic Jews in Washington are trying to prevent the completion of a Middle East settlement. In effect, Connally proposes that it is high time we unhooked the Jewish lobby yoke from aroung the American neck and we begin to pursue our real national interests.
His analysis is short-sighted. First, anyone who believes that influencing American policy against Israel will solve our oil crisis in myopically naive. Countries that support the Arab states have received no rise in gas allocations or any dip in oil prices. OPEC is hardly a non-profit organization offering lollipops to friends and depriving foes. Rather, it is a business that distributes a limited supply of gasoline and oil to an ever-increasing worldwide demand.
Connally's analysis also plays into Arab hands. He envisions that Arabs who receive a favorable settlement will open the spigot and our oil shortage will magically be over. Don't vote on it. Our energy problem will only be solved be domestic programs, and not by OPEC's charity.
But this reasoning neglects the benefits of supporting Israel--a country established and maintained through American aid. To abandon a nation we helped create discredits our responsibility to the rest of our allies.
Secondly, Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East. Attacks designed to disparage Israel are ultimately aimed at democracy in general and the United States in particular.
Thirdly, the U.S. has clearcut strategic amd military reasons to remain committed to Israel--it needs a listening post in the Middle East and a military post in its oil route, the Persian Gulf.
The greatest paradox is that American influence in Israel actually carries over into the Arab world. For 25 years Egypt attempted militarily to extort demands from Israel. When that try failed, Egypt applied diplomatic pressures, forcing the Arabs into dealing with the U.S. to bargain concessions from Israel. Only through a commitment to Israel can the U.S. influence Arab policy.
Connally's appeasement of the Arabs (he has already received campaign contributions from Arab supporters) and his anti-Israel position ignore all of these considerations. His politics could be popular among Republicans and push him through the primaries. But he should beware that they could backfire in a general election, when Jews--absent from the Republican primaries--will back the Democratic candidate. Connally has tossed away any possibility for Jewish support, a factor that was crucial to the Republicans' victory in the presidential race of 1972, when many Jews voted conservatively.
No doubt Connally will continue his polemic on the Israel-oil connection. Connally must be praying for a cold winter so he can remind us how warm we would be with a fresh supply of Arab oil in our furnaces. But resting our hopes for an energy solution on OPEC is illusory and will invite further blackmail from the cartel. The U.S. should reaffirm its commitment to Israel and ignore Connally's easy answer.