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March 24, 1989 - Image 36

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-03-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

BACKGROUND

A WORLD OF ELEGANCE

American Jews And The PLO
Faceoff At Columbia University

RUTH MASON

Special to The Jewish News

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36

FRIDAY, MARCH 24, 1989

I

eah Shakdiel listened
to Nabil Shaath and
wept. Shakdiel is a
religious Israeli from the
Negev development town of
Yerucham. Shaath is a chair-
man of the Political Commit-
tee of the Palestine National
Council and an aide to PLO
Chairman Yassir Arafat. The
two former enemies gathered
with 50 other Israeli and
Palestinian leaders and
several hundred American
Jews and Arabs at an un-
precedented peace conference
at Columbia University last
weekend.
Shakdiel and other Israeli
participants, keyed up from
the excitement of openly
meeting with Palestinians
and PLO officials, were moved
by Shaath's use of an old
Jewish tale to explain the
political changes within the
PLO. The Palestinians had
been like the real mother in
the King Solomon story,
Shaath said, addressing an
audience of 700 on the open-
ing night of the two-day
conference.
According to the fable,
which illustrates Solomon's
great wisdom, two women
come to the king, each claim-
ing to be mother to the same
baby. Since there is no way to
unequivocally prove materni-
ty, the king decides that the
baby should be cut in two
whereupon the real mother
relinquishes her claim.
"We were like the mother
who would rather relinquish
her child than see it cut in
two," Shaath said, explaining
Palestinians' prior refusal to
agree to any partition plan.
"But years of suffering led us
to think differently. Maybe
land and property is not like
a child. Maybe we have to ac-
cept dividing the land so the
child can live."
This was just one of many
dramatic and emotion-filled
moments during the con-
ference, entitled, The Road to
Peace: Co-Existence Between
Israelis and Palestinians and
organized by a coalition of
Israelis, Palestinians and
Americans. While Israelis
and Palestinians have been
meeting secretly for years and
some more public meetings
have taken place recently in
Europe, this gathering was
the first public meeting in the
United States of Israeli
leaders, including eight cur-
rent and former Knesset

members and such illustrious
figures as former head of in-
telligence for the IDF,
Yehoshafat Harkabi, and
Palestinian leaders.
Organized by the Israeli
monthly New Outlook, the
Palestinian daily Al Fajr and
American peace groups, the
stated purpose of the confer-
ence was to provide an oppor-
tunity for the two sides to
discuss the issues that divide
them and to gain a greater
understanding not only of

For some it was
the first civil
meeting with "the
enemy," using the
medium of polite
discourse.

each other's viewpoints but of
each other's fears.
The substance of the con-
ference went beyond words.
Many Israelis and Palestin-
ians were seasoned "dialog-
uers" who considered every
such meeting a small step for-
ward. But for some, it was a
first civil meeting with "the
enemy," using the medium of
polite discourse in the halls of
the academy.
The Israeli government had
made it clear that it did not
look with favor upon Israeli
citizens attending the con-
ference. The Labor Party, in-
cluding invitee Abba Eban,
declined to attend. The
United States did not agree to
grant visas to the PLO of-
ficials until three days before
the conference. The Israelis
who did come were aided by
the organizers in finding in-
genious ways to circumvent
Israel's law prohibiting con-
tact or talks with the PLO.
The panels, chaired alternate-
ly- by a Palestinian and a Jew
and consisting always of an
equal number from each side,
spoke to the audience rather
than to each other.
Say "PLO" to an American
Jew and chances are he or she
will associate the word with
images of terror, of evil, of
threat to the existence of the
heart of our people. But spend
two days in a room with in-
telligent, articulate,
reasonable Palestinian men
and women, and something
happens. Stereotypes begin to
crumble. Not one of the
Palestinians who came from
the West Bank • and Gaza
pre-1967 Israel, the United
States, and many other coun-

tries will reminiscent of the
gun-toting, green-fatiqued,
kaffieh'd and unshaven
Arafat, though clearly all
revered him as their leader.
Listen to stories of their
childhoods, their ac-
complishments, their hopes
and you begin to feel what
you of course must of known
all along: In many ways, they
are just like us.
But humanization was not
the only by-product of the con-
ference and suspicion habits
. place, and will continue to
play a role in Israeli-Palestin-
ian relations for a long time
to come. The Palestinians
came across as reasonable,
flexible people, passionately
wanting peace and willing to
compromise long-cherished
ideals to attain it. "We have
accepted Israel, they stressed.
We have endorsed UN resolu-
tion 242, called for a Pales-
tinian state living in peace
alongside a secure Israel; we
have renounced terror!
But the 25 Israelis at the
conference, most from left
wing parties or peace groups,
are not the ones who need
convincing. "Ninety percent
of Israelis don't trust the
PLO," said Yossi Sarid, a
Citizens Rights Movement
MK. "They view the PLO as
evasive, fickle and two-faced,
and they have good reason to
be fearful. The PLO must
prove it practices what it
preaches."
If the Palestinians want to
convince the majority of
Israelis of the sincerity of
their new public positions,
they have a way to go. Even
in a conference of like-minded
Palestinians and Israelis,
there were what most of the
Israelis considered serious-
miscalculations and insen-
sivities on the part of the
Palestinians. In a panel on
American Jews and Palestin-
ians, Ibrahim Abu Lughod a
PNC member, and the only
Palestinian who sounded ag-
gressive in tone, lauded
Elmer Berger and Noam
Chomsky, anti-Zionist Jews
who are anathema the
American Jewish community
and to Israelis.
The Israelis pounce. MK
Ran Cohen, a reserve IDF
Colonel Rabbi Arthur Hertz-
berg, a noted Zionist thinker
and leader are angered by
this and try to convince the
Palestinians not to bring up
names that will alienate the
very Jews they are trying to
reach.
The Palestinians insist.

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