WASHINGTON (Jun. 14)
Three American Jews met last month in Tunis with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders including Chairman Yasir Arafat.
The delegation, representing separate peace organizations which support a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, reported Friday that the PLO made clear its interest in negotiating a peace settlement. “Anyone who doubts that should get involved in negotiations with the group,” said Jerome Segal of the Washington Area Jews for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
But the delegates, who stated they did not attempt negotiations of their own during their week stay in Tunis, said the PLO stopped short of agreeing to abrogate its charter which does not recognize Israel’s existence.
“They told us they cannot now,” admitted Hilda Silverman of New Jewish Agenda. “It’s a real psychological problem for both sides. Their constituency is desperate and they have to speak to that constituency. They cannot give up the kinds of things they would like to.”
“They told us there has to be recognition (of the PLO) before we go further. They’ve gone so far and they offered some illuminating examples such as a willingness to meet with Jewish democratic forces. They need to hear more from us,” she added.
MET 10 PLO LEADERS
The three Americans, who say they would like to meet with Jewish groups to discuss their visit, met for two hours with Arafat and later with nine other PLO leaders. They believe the Palestinians have a right to feel frustrated that their case has been misunderstood and ignored.
“We are talking to people who are subject to violence every day of their life,” said Silverman when asked how the three Americans felt about Palestinian-sponsored terrorism. Silverman also said Arafat said he was not involved in the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in which an American was killed.
The members of the peace groups say efforts in Congress to close PLO offices in the U.S. is another attempt to negate Palestinian importance and would just create another stumbling block to negotiations.
“Rather than close the offices, we should send speakers to the communities’ centers,” noted Mary Appelman of the American Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, the third member of the delegation.
Although the three Americans represent organizations which lack wide support, they believe they are part of a “silent majority” that may slowly be finding its voice.
Recently Reuven Kaminer, the vice-provost of the Rothberg School for Overseas Students at Hebrew University, joined 22 Israeli delegates to Rumania to meet with the PLO. Kaminer is now imprisoned under an Israeli law which makes it an offense to meet with terrorist organizations.
“Something new is happening. There’s a current out there and our delegation and our meeting was part of it,” said Segal.