“Tough Love for United,” exclaimed the Wall Street Journal, as it congratulated Uncle Sam for stiffing United Airlines’ plea for $1.8 billion in loan guarantees. Rebuffed, the beloved old airline had to declare its bankruptcy.

It’s all for the best, the Journal assures us, “maybe this tough love rejection will start a new government precedent, or at least we can dream.” Fine. May we now expect the Journal to call on Mr. Bush to reject the $10 billion in loan guarantees demanded by Ariel Sharon? Don’t bet on it.

Yet, Sharon’s demand is astonishing in its audacity. California and New York face huge budget shortfalls. The U.S. Treasury is running a deficit nearing $200 billion. Yet, Sharon, who ignored Bush when the president publicly called on him to pull his army out of West Bank cities, is demanding that U.S. taxpayers fork over $4 billion in new military aid and agree to pay off $10 billion Israel intends to borrow should Israel decide to default.

Why should we do this? What does America get out of this? What has all the $100 billion in aid we have shoveled out to Israel bought us, other than ingratitude and the enmity of the Arab world?

While Israel has a first-rate military, it is of no use to us. In Desert Storm, Bush I had to bribe Yitzhak Shamir with $5 billion in aid, $400 million in loan guarantees, and Patriot missiles to stay out of the fighting, lest Israeli intervention dynamite our coalition. Journalists and diplomats alike, returning from the Mideast, attest that our almost-blind support of Israel is a major cause of the anti-Americanism that is sweeping the Islamic world.

When the price of Israel could be paid in dollars alone, $3 billion a year, most members of Congress chose to pony up rather than face the retribution of an Israeli Lobby that has in its trophy case the scalps of two chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright and Chuck Percy.

But now the price of the Israeli connection has begun to rise. U.S. weapons technology given to Israel has been sold to China. Only direct U.S. intervention prevented Israel from selling Beijing AWACS technology. The Patriot missile, the Phoenix air-to-air missile, the Lavi fighter, based on the F-16, have all been sold to Beijing.

In the Reagan era, Israel had the loathsome Jonathan Pollard, whom it suborned into treason, loot our innermost national security secrets, some of which are believed to have been traded to Moscow. Israel refuses to return the roomful of documents it stole and has pressured presidents for Pollard’s release so he can be brought to Israel where he is a hero.

Now Mr. Sharon has handed us Israel’s bill for abstaining from war with Iraq while President Bush is at maximum political risk. Not since 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower ordered Ben-Gurion to get his army out of Sinai, has a U.S. president faced down an Israeli Prime Minister.

To his credit, the president’s father tried. In 1991, having driven Iraq out of Kuwait, with his approval at 70 percent, Bush I was asked by Shamir for $10 billion in loan guarantees to bring a million Russian Jews to Israel. Bush assented, on one condition: Shamir must not settle them on the West Bank and must stop expanding settlements.

Shamir rejected the condition, and the Lobby went to work. Bush warned he would veto the guarantees. An Israeli minister called him an anti-Semite. While Shamir was defeated in June of 1992, Bush, his own election in trouble, eventually gave in and gave Israel the loan guarantees. Who was the Housing Minister who announced new settlements even as Bush I was denouncing them? Ariel Sharon.

Sharon now wants to repeat Israel’s victory over Bush’s father by making the son give Israel $4 billion in hardware and $10 billion in new loan guarantees as Sharon’s price for permitting us to crush Iraq while he holds America’s coat. It is a shakedown: Ariel Sharon’s big sting

What should Bush do? Tell Sharon the loan guarantees will not even be taken up until he begins to dismantle all the settlements he has begun to build since George W. took office. And if Sharon attempts to roll him in Congress, he, Bush, will go to the country and roll Sharon.

In short, stand up for U.S. national interests and declare America’s independence. Israel may be our ally in the war on terror. We are not Israel’s ally in its war on the Palestinians. Our commitment is to Israel’s security, not its settlements, which are the cause of the intifada.

Sharon’s opponent in January’s election, General Mitzna, has agreed to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of Camp David and to begin withdrawals from the West Bank and Gaza. If Israeli politicians can stand up to Sharon, why cannot U.S. presidents? If members of the Knesset can refuse to follow the suicidal path of Sharon & Netanyahu, why is Congress so cowardly?