FROM THE EDITOR

MOSTLY WE'D LIKE to leave the scandal that has rocked the United States presidency alone. Like most such affairs, it is does not make for edifying reading.

There are, however, a couple of points worth noting: the timing of the breaking news, and the popular response to it.

Like most Middle East watchers, we were closely following Prime Minister Netanyahu's January 20 visit to Washington. Israelis tuned to the news the next morning heard an Israeli official describe the second, late night, meeting as "a war of attrition" - so intense was the pressure on Netanyahu to succumb to the Arab demand for more land. Less than one hour after that meeting, news broke that accusations had been levelled against President Clinton by a young White House intern.

In a moment the pressure was off Netanyahu and on Clinton. Forty-eight hours later the American leader was forced to face a barrage of embarrassing questions while a visiting Yasser Arafat looked on. Virtually all interest in the meeting between Clinton and the PLO leader was gone.

Many will remember how the newly elected President Clinton encouraged Israelis with the account of his elderly pastor who, after predicting that he would become president, solemnly warned him: "God will never forgive you if you let any harm come to Israel." Said one American observer last month: 'Draw your own conclusions...'

The other noteworthy issue has been the response of the American people to these revelations about their elected leader's alleged misbehaviour. According to opinion polls, a majority of Americans - 62 per cent - believed the charges. At the same time, virtually the same number - 63 per cent - thought these "true" allegations should not prevent Clinton from continuing to lead their country.

And a poll conducted between January 30 and February 1 gave Clinton a 69 per cent approval rating - the highest of his presidency.


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