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Special Interview Eliav Optimistic About Mideast Peace

Arie Eliav, a member of the Israeli Knesset and chairman and founder of the Sheli peace movement, says that he is optimistic about the prospects for peace in the Mideast but he predicts, nonetheless, a long and difficult road until peace is attained. “We are going to face many crises, disappointments and stalemates along the way but it is clear that neither the Arabs nor the Israelis have a choice but to find a way to live in peace,” Eliav said.

In a special interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the former Labor Party leader who was at one time Premier Golda Meir’s right-hand man, contended that the core of the Mideast conflict is the Palestinian issue. “The Israeli government must declare its readiness to give the Palestinian people the right of self-determination, while seeking the moderate elements among the Palestinians and keeping strict safeguards (such as buffer zones) to ensure Israel’s security.”

Eliav, who arrived here yesterday for a three week lecture tour and official meetings in Washington under the sponsorship of the American Friends Service Committee and an ad hoc committee of public figures, said that Premier Menachem Begin’s plan to give self-rule to the West Bank is not sufficient and does not answer the needs of the Palestinians.

“Begin’s plan denies (the Palestinians) the elemental right of self-determination and cannot give Israel a moderate partner among the Palestinians. We hope that a formula will be found soon with the help of the Americans that could bring together moderate Palestinians as well as Jordanians to the negotiating table with Israel and Egypt.”

As to the touchy and sensitive issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and elsewhere in the occupied territories, Eliav said emphatically: “I and my friends (in the Israeli peace camp) thought, and still think, that creating facts in the form of settlements is an obstacle to the current negotiations (with Egypt) and future negotiations in the Mideast. As far as I am concerned, the settlements can’t even serve Israel’s security. For that we have the army.”

PARADOX AND IRONY

In Eliav’s view, the peace camp in Israel has been in a “paradoxical” and “ironic” position since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem last November. “Since the beginning of Sadat’s initiative, we have been supporting any step by the Begin government, that we deemed correct, with our own conception,” Eliav said. “But at the same time, we criticize the government for taking what we consider wrong positions. We congratulated Begin for his readiness to make far-reaching concessions in the Sinai, but we criticized him on the Palestinian issue.”

The “ironic” situation of the peace camp in Israel, Eliav said, is in the fact that a “large part of what we preached in the last ten years is now carried out by our political opponents. We said in the Knesset that we will support any positive step by the government. The Sadat initiative has created openness towards our position within the Israeli public, but things and attitudes (among Israelis) can still harden and change in case of any complications in the negotiations.”

Asked about the apparent transformation of Begin from a “hawk” to a “dove,” Eliav replied: “Hawks become less hawkish when they assume positions of power. The first ones who charged that Begin turned to be a dove were his own party members. And they are right. In the Labor Party there are many hawks who are less flexible than Begin and his Cabinet members.”

NO ROLE FOR THE PLO

Eliav, who was known to have met “secretly” with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization before the Sadat peace initiative started, said that the PLO can no longer be considered as a partner for negotiations since they joined the “rejection front” against Sadat’s peace moves. “We believe that only if the PLO abandons the ‘rejection front’ and recognizes Israel can it be a partner in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said.

Being a long-time advocate of social justice in Israel’s society, Eliav was asked about the present situation and the ways to improve it. “Behind the international drama of bringing peace to the Mideast, the process of social polarization in Israeli society is continuing. The gap between those who have and those who have not is increasing. This fact only increases the need for peace, to enable us to deal with Israel’s social problem with new financial and human efforts.”

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