GRANTED A DEGREE of hyperbole in pre-election rhetoric, there is little doubt that President Bill Clinton's new administration will tend to view the peace process far more through the prism of perceived protection of Israel than was the case during the tenure of President Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker. The chief reason for believing this is the clear commitment to oppose the creation of an independent state of Palestine.
However, it can be expected that Clinton's pre-election definition of the Camp David accords as providing merely for a limited Palestinian right "to participate in the determination of their future" will not be as restrictive in the negotiating process as it may sound.
Important for its broad potential impact on the region is Clinton's stated view that "Israel is our most dependable ally," and it is to be expected that the new Washington administration will live up to its commitment that defence relationships will be enhanced. But there will be no free ride for the Israelis.
lt can be safely predicted that the security pledge will be the carrot proferred to urge Israel to move further down the peace path. Whether this will also be used as a stick at some later date will depend how seriously the Clinton administration takes its own electioneering criticism of the Bush/Baker policies which candidates Clinton and Gore referred to as "coercive" toward Israel.
lt will come as no surprise to anyone that the Clinton White House stands strongly against any efforts by Saddam Hussein to reassert control over all of territorial Iraq, to say nothing of exercising regional power. Equally foreseeable is that this stance will be coupled with a commitment to oppose terrorism "in all its forms" - a provocatively ambiguous term.
Ambiguity also underpins the Clinton view of Syria and Hafez al Assad. While calling for a continuation of diplomatic relations, the new administration inherits its leader's view that Syria was "coddled" by the Republicans. What this may mean in practical terms is anyone's guess. Otherwise non-reactive to the Clinton rhetoric, the Syrian president has tested the White House's position by an on-again off-again manipulation of exist visas for Syrian Jews going to Israel - a reminder to the new American leadership, if any was needed, that ambiguity is also a favoured tactic in Damascus.
More clear is the Clinton policy toward Libya. The signs are quite apparent that the United States will join Britain and...