Louis Perlmutter: Architect Of Peace
even more difficult to support on an on-going ba-
sis, and they ought to consolidate.
"It would create a much stronger voice for the Jew-
ish community that had more influence and au-
thority. I tried very hard at the end of my tenure to
merge the congress and the American Jewish Com-
mittee, but I wasn't successful, and I think that's un-
Disillusioned with the congress, Mr. Perlmutter
turned to the Council on Foreign Relations, which
had, in the summer of 1994, established its U.S./Mid-
dle East Project under the leadership of Henry
Seigman, a senior Fellow of the council, as well as
that of a politically star-studded board of advisers
(among then H.R.H. Prince Bandar Bin Sultan of
Egypt; HRH Crown Prince Hassan Ben-Talal, Jor-
dan; and Cyrus Vance).
The project was conceived as a kind of supra-
national, extra-governmental organization that
would, using the expertise of highly placed members
of the private sector, "influence the various govern-
ments in the Middle East to expedite the peace
"I had known Louis ever since his days in the
American Jewish Congress," says Mr. Seigman, who
originally invited Mr. Perlmutter to join the CFR.
"And we asked him to head the Council of Econom-
ic Advisors because of our great respect for his pro-
fessional achievements, and
the leadership he showed in
the congress' peace activi-
In the beginning, of course,
this meant simply getting to
know the various govern-
ments in the Middle East —
which led Mr. Perlmutter to
his long-delayed meeting
with the chairman of the
PLO, and marked the end of
one stage of Mr. Perlmutter's
career as an American Jew-
ish activist, and the begin-
ning of another.
"I think peace in the
Middle East is possible.
Assad is the ultimate key —
he wants to be the ones
remembered in the history books."
The first time he met Mr. Arafat, Mr. Perlmutter
was terrified. He and his CFR teammates had been
escorted by armed Israeli soldiers late one night
("Arafat has very strange working hours," says Mr.
Perlmutter) to the Gaza border, where they were
passed off to a Palestinian escort.
The Americans were dressed in their standard
business attire — dark suits, white shirts, ties —
and the Palestinians were dressed in green police
uniforms, complete with big guns.
"We sat there in our car at the checkpoint in this
enormous darkness," says Mr. Perlmutter. "And
straight in front of us was this huge truck with an
open back filled with soldiers, all of whom looked
about 10 years old, but with truly formidable
weapons, and in back of us was a private car all filled
with soldiers. Talk about not traveling incognito! I
was appalled that they would call this much atten-
tion to a private group traveling through Gaza at
"Then the first truck just took off at about 80 mph
— there are no roads there, just dirt, ruts and holes
— just plowing ahead, lights glaring, horn blaring.
Our driver was left standing there, until he realized
he'd better take off too. And we never stopped. If any-
one was in the first truck's way, he would just plow
them down, side-swipe cars.
"Meanwhile the second car is behind us blaring its
horn, fully armed. It was harrowing. And of course,
by the time we got there, Arafat was running late,
so we didn't see him until about 10:30 p.m."
When they did see him, however, they spent two
hours talking with him about what he was trying to
accomplish — and, how in the view of the World
Bank, the State Department, and the donor coun-
tries, he was failing.
"We figured our value lay in not being intimidat-
ed at all, but in telling him what the situation was
as we understood it," says Mr. Perlmutter. "And af-
ter those two hours, frankly, I thought he'd never
want to see us again, we were so critical."
They were also wrong, at least in terms of Mr.
Arafat's reaction to the meeting, as they learned
rather dramatically later that year at an Aspen In-
stitute symposium on the Middle East.
Arrayed around a large table in a conference room
in Aspen were 35 senior political leaders from as-
sorted different Middle Eastern countries, including
Israel's deputy foreign minister, as well as Mr. Perl-
mutter and the CFR group.
Discussion followed presentation followed discus-
sion, until, at a designated time, Mr. Arafat's voice
boomed out over the loudspeakers from a phone con-
nection. He briefed everyone on the situation on the