Netanyahu victory plunges Clinton administration into deep funk

Published May 31, 1996 8:28AM (EDT)

Spinning as fast as it can, the Clinton administration insists the pursuit of Middle East peace is still on track and that of course it can work with Israel's new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, on this Jewish Sabbath, the White House is a dark and bitter place, deeply fearful that its finest foreign policy achievement is about to turn to dust.

The fact is, President Clinton has been stunned by the defeat of Shimon Peres, upon whom he had expended so much political capital.
One Democratic insider, well-informed on the president's thinking about Middle East issues, described the administration as "absolutely devastated" by Netanyahu's victory. If the rightist Likud leader implements his hard-line campaign rhetoric, says this highly-placed source, "the consequences (for the peace process) will be

Despite administration assurances, U.S. diplomatic sources say they have little idea how to move the stalled peace process under a Netanyahu-led government. "After all these years
of the White House giving Israel reassurances so they could be flexible about peace, the elections have produced a right-wing government. It wasn't supposed to happen this way," says one State Department official, who asked not be identified.

"We'll probably lower our expectations about any imminent
breakthroughs, and maybe quietly say we need a little time out," says William Quandt, a former National Security Council adviser on the Middle East during the Carter administration. "Netanyahu will need time to settle in, he'll need to come and visit, have a little face time with Bill. So you'll see a lot of time getting chewed up in coalition forming, getting acquainted and taking charge before anything happens."

Netanyahu has said he wants the peace process to continue, although at a slower pace. At the same time, he has pledged to shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization's office in Jerusalem, resume Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and send Israeli troops into Palestinian-controlled areas to punish terrorists. He also has promised to postpone Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank town of Hebron and make the city's disposition a so-called "final status" issue, to be resolved along with the future of Jerusalem, refugees, final borders and other Jewish settlements. Such a postponement would violate accords Israel already has
signed with the Palestinians.

Pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington, whose job is to promote the
U.S.-Israel relationship no matter which government is in power in Jerusalem, are putting out a sunnier face on the shocking election result. Their line: Netanyahu, 46, is a savvy, American-style leader who will work hard with the United States to advance the peace process.

"The United States has worked with Likud prime ministers in the past," says Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "and I'm sure we'll refashion our approach to the peace process, working in tandem with Netanyahu because it's in both parties' mutual interest to have a warm, working relationship."

If true, the close strategic cooperation between the
United States and Israel will continue. In addition to sharing intelligence information, the U.S. is Israel's main weapons supplier and is helping Israel develop a number of new weapons systems, including the promising Arrow anti-missile missile. Since 1986, the United States has given Israel $3 billion annually in military and economic aid, and in 1992 provided Israel with $10 billion in loan guarantees.

But the economic and military lifeline may not give the kind of leverage Clinton could use against a recalcitrant Israel, even if he chose to. During the campaign, Netanyahu called for reducing Israeli dependence on U.S. economic aid. That is music to the ears of Rep.
Sonny Callahan, R-Alabama, chairman of the House Appropriations Foreign Operation subcommittee, which controls foreign aid. Callahan says he plans to begin discussions with Netanyahu on an aid cut
as soon as he comes to Washington.

And just how tough Clinton is prepared to get with Netanyahu is highly debatable. "By nature, Clinton avoids conflict," Quandt says. "He cares about the peace process, but I don't see him so deeply committed that he's going to lead a big fight with Israel and put himself out front. He's not a crusader like Carter was or even stubbornly committed the way Bush was. If it's not working, Clinton's tendency will be to say, 'Too bad, we tried,' and punt."

Grasping for silver linings, some analysts are suggesting that Netanyahu's rhetorical flourishes will be softened by the new international political realities in the Middle East. One congressional official told of a meeting with Netanyahu during the election campaign in which he asked Netanyahu exactly how he was going to slow down the peace process and still remain a viable leader. " 'Well, that's a very good question,' he told me. But he had no answer."

But if the peace process indeed deteriorates under Netanyahu, one administration insider said she could envision the Israeli leader being treated as a pariah by the United States. "I can see Bill
Clinton literally not being able to tolerate Bibi Netanyahu in his presence," she says. "You've got to remember what Clinton's emotional relation was with (assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin. That was not phony. That was real."

"A hate crime against the past"

Novelist Nicholson Baker accuses "library of the future" of massive book dumping


Will the libraries of tomorrow hold any books at all? Not if the likes of San Francisco City Librarian Ken Dowlin has anything to say about it, according to author Nicholson Baker ("Vox," "The Fermata").

The new main San Francisco Public Library (cost: $135 million) was nationally acclaimed as the library of the future when it opened its doors last month. Dowlin, whose 1984 book, "The Electronic Library," marked him as something of a prophet in library administration circles, saw it as a concrete realization of his vision of a "high-tech information retrieval center." The New York Public Library followed suit, recently opening its state-of-the-art "interactive research institution" focusing on science, business and industry.

But if Baker's vehement j'accuse is any indication, these librarians of the future have a big fight on their hands.

At a public meeting of concerned library patrons in San Francisco Thursday night, Baker accused Dowlin of the indiscriminate destruction of over 200,000 books, calling the librarian's action "a hate crime against the past."

All libraries regularly "weed" their collections to make room for new books, withdrawing duplicate copies and undistinguished outdated editions. However, Baker maintained before a group of over a hundred listeners gathered in the new library's sleekly appointed auditorium, Dowlin's disposal of 20 percent of the library's collection was done "hastily and thoughtlessly."

Salon tried to reach Dowlin and other San Francisco library officials for comment, but no calls were returned.

Baker flourished several copies of titles that had been eliminated from circulation, the last copy of each consigned to a dismal chamber dubbed "the discard room." From this room, Baker reports, a steady stream of books were loaded into trucks that transported them to landfills. This purge, he claimed, has continued steadily over the past seven years, with major increases following the 1989 earthquake and preceding the move to the new main branch.

The most recent dumping, Baker observed, was needed to fit the collection into a new main branch that -- contrary to promises made to San Franciscans who overwhelmingly voted for a bond issue to fund its construction -- actually holds less books than the old building. Baker arrived at the figure of 200,000 based on the library's own published figures and discussions with a staff he describes as "disappointed and demoralized," employees who, he maintains, sought to save "thousands of books on the sly" by "sequestering them in boxes in unvisited areas, quietly transferring them from one department to another, and hiding them in their lockers."

Instead of providing adequate space for the existing collection (let alone an expanded one), Baker noted, the new building -- lavishly praised by San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times architecture critics -- offers "expanses of wall-to-wall carpeting and vistas of distant gift shops and teen centers and sweeping stairways and uninterrrupted sight-lines in almost every direction." The observation, like many during his speech, drew bitter laughter and scattered applause from the crowd.

Furthermore, Baker maintains, one third of the library's surviving collection of periodicals and books is stored in a decaying underground warehouse where -- due to inadequate on-line cataloging -- many are essentially inaccessible to the public. Some of these books (along with music scores), he said, are stored in "collapsing" boxes on 27 pallets, increasing the likelihood of damage and subsequent destruction.

"Mr. Dowlin is waiting," Baker said. "He knows he has to wear down resistance. He is confident, I think, that he will eventually unload this antiquated overstock." Among the titles stored in the underground warehouse (which Baker describes as "a book dealer's paradise") are "the McComas science fiction collection, including unbound copies of 'Amazing Stories' going back to 1929" and "valuable 18th and 19th century books of engravings" related to the natural and social sciences. In boxes of uncataloged books, he says he found "Italian poetry, German bibliography, and a Russian language encyclopedia."

Dowlin has attracted attention and controversy for his emphasis on computer networking and databases, often at the expense of budgets to buy new books. It is an approach that many librarians consider rash and excessive. Historian Gray Brechin, who also spoke at Thursday night's meeting, complained that those who object are often summarily branded as "Luddites. . . when in actuality we love computers and use them all the time."

Baker, who wrote about the destruction of library card catalogs for The New Yorker in 1994, became concerned about Dowlin's management style when the city librarian proved reluctant to allow him access to the San Francisco library's card catalog ("frozen" in 1991). Baker has filed a request to examine the card catalog under section 6250 of California's Public Records Act (the equivalent of the Federal Freedom of Information Act). He says that he now believes that "Mr. Dowlin doesn't want anyone to see the card catalog, not because he knows that I know that there are cards in it for books that aren't yet in the online system, but because it is our only clue as to what was in the library before some of the weeding. If Mr. Dowlin has committed a crime against knowledge and against public property, that card catalog is the evidence."

Baker hopes that his protest will prevent the destruction of the card catalog, which he would like to see preserved as a historic document, and that library patrons will be encouraged to halt Dowlin's efforts to "downsize" the library's collection of books. "It is worth all of our efforts to rescue it," he said. "What we have to do is a little aggressive weeding of our own; we need to rid our public commons of one particularly stubborn and invasive piece of vegetation. Let us weed."

Quote of the day

The vision thing

"Beats me."

-- Presidential candidate Bob Dole, asked by a reporter for the most important quality he would like voters to know about him.

By Jonathan Broder

Jonathan Broder is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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