NEW YORK (Apr. 7)
Abba Eban said Wednesday night that Israel should be willing to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization, providing the PLO renounces terrorism and accepts a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict.
“I am willing to sit down and negotiate with my enemy,” the Laborite Knesset member told an overflowing auditorium at the New School for Social Research here. “We want to negotiate with Palestinian representatives, with those who abjure terrorism and want peace,” he said.
Eban, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and the United States who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, came out strongly in favor of an international conference to open direct peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Charging that “a scare campaign” against an international conference is under way “not only in Israel but in the U.S. itself,” Eban said that in the last 40 years “Israel participated in five of them, and there is always a way out,” if something does not work out.
Eban noted that the United States is offering “extraordinary safeguards” to Israel to participate in an international conference and has assured the Israeli government that the United States will walk out together with Israel from such a conference if Israel’s interests are compromised.
As for Soviet participation in the conference, which some have opposed since the Soviet Union does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, Eban, asked: “How can you have peace without Soviet participation?”
He scoffed at the suggestion that Israel would be isolated at such a conference. “Israel and America together will not be isolated,” he said.
Eban praised Secretary of State George Shultz’s new peace initiative, claiming that it has filled “a vacuum” in the area as demonstrated by the continued unrest in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“My only criticism is that it came too late,” he said, noting that both Israel and the United States are gearing up for general elections this fall. “But later is better than never,” he quipped.
“Anybody should want it not to fail,” Eban said in reference to Shultz’s initiative, warning that the coming year could be “a year of breakthrough or a tragic year.”
Eban described the current situation facing Israel as being a “temporary dilemma” over the future of the territories and “a temporary anguish” over the daily violence and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
He said that Israel’s rule over more than 1.5 million Palestinians in the territories has created a “crisis of structure” under which social harmony and peace cannot exist.
He said that he is “totally surprised that the unrest did not occur before” last Dec. 9, when the riots started.
Claiming that it is unjust and unrealistic for Israel to continue to rule over the Palestinian population, the Israeli lawmaker said that “sovereignty and territory must be shared” by both Jews and Palestinian Arabs in the Land of Israel.