JERUSALEM (Feb. 29)
The mood at the opening sessions of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations mission to Israel was as somber as the gray fog that hung over much of the country.
Not even an appearance Sunday by a jovial U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz could dispel the gloom, even though Shultz told delegates representing 44 organizations that his meeting that day with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was satisfactory and helpful.
At working sessions Monday morning, the delegates heard Israeli military experts say the only solution to the unrest in the administered territories was a political one, just moments after Israeli politicians representing Labor and Likud stated that no political solution was imminent.
Labor was represented by Haim Ramon, a young Knesset member who said Israel had two choices: either to annex the territories or not to annex the territories. The first option, said Ramon, would cause Israel to become a racist state or lose its Jewish character.
Ramon called for an agreement that would include an Israeli withdrawal from administered territories, a demilitarized Palestinian state, along with the installation of Israel Defense Force posts at strategic points.
Likud Knesset member Ehud Olmert took exception to Ramon’s plan. “Israel cannot simply pull out of all the territories,” said Olmert. “Only some political naivete can convince you that you can pull out of all the territories and yet stay in the Jordan Valley and some other key strategic positions in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement.”
Olmert repeated Likud calls for an interim agreement that would reduce the Israeli military engagement in the territories to a minimum, while not endangering the security interests of Israel.
A third participant in the panel discussion, Asher Susser of the Dayan Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that Israel has three options: to continue the status quo, to negotiate for a state dominated by the Palestine Liberation Organization or to negotiate for a state dominated by the Jordanians.
The unrest also dominated a panel discussion with Israeli military experts. Brig. Gen. Maier Elron, deputy head of intelligence of the IDF, said most of the soldiers facing the rioting behave in an admirable way.
A fellow panelist, Ron Ben-Yishai, military correspondent for Yediot Achronot and Time Magazine, agreed, but maintained that events have left the morale of soldiers in great and grave danger.
The conference also heard Monday from Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij, who proposed a new framework for Middle East peace, based on the model established by the Benelux countries in Europe.
Participants in the mission criticized Freij for refusing to meet with Secretary of State Shultz. They said the fact that a “brave Arab leader” such as Freij was afraid to meet with Shultz showed that Palestinians were not serious about negotiating for peace.
Sunday night’s cocktail reception for arriving delegates was attended by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Commerce and Industry Minister Ariel Sharon, Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek and World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive Chairman Simcha Dinitz.