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Jewish Groups Urge Progress on Peace

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While continuing to place the blame for the unrest and tension in the Gaza Strip and West Bank on the Arab states’ refusal to hold direct, face-to-face negotiations with Israel, American Jewish leaders are also urging Israel to pursue more vigorously all avenues to peace in the region.

Rabbi Kassel Abelson, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, representing 1,200 Conservative rabbis internationally, said in a statement issued here Monday that “Israel must aggressively pursue the peace process and continue exploring with the United States all prospects that might lead towards peace in the area, including an international peace conference as advocated by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.”

While Peres, who heads the Labor Party, supports an international conference, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Likud is strongly opposed to the idea. Their difference of opinion has led to a virtual stalemate in Israel about what step to take next to advance the peace process.

Abelson, in his statement, warned that there are dangers to letting the deadlock continue: “The lack of such peace and movement in direct negotiations between Israel and neighboring Arab states has produced the tensions that persist in Gaza and the West Bank,” he said.

In a separate statement, the American Jewish Committee expressed the hope that the “unfortunate events” in the territories “will reinvigorate the debate in Israel over the need to forge a national consensus on how to resolve the Palestinian problem through direct negotiations with its Arab neighbors, leading to a permanent and peaceful settlement of the conflict.”

The group’s president, Theodore Ellenoff, said, “The loss of life is tragic, and should serve to underscore the reality that the Palestinian Arabs have been ill-served by those who practice and counsel violence. The tragedy will only be compounded if Palestinian leadership, which might otherwise be ready to work toward peace with Israel, now retreats or even endorses radical demands, overwhelmed by the most violent and extreme elements.”

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