NEW YORK (Dec. 6)
Five American Jews met with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat Tuesday for six-and-a-half hours of “very serious talks for the purpose of trying to help the peace process,” according to one of the participants.
In a telephone interview from Stockholm, Menachem Rosensaft, president of the Labor Zionist Alliance, declined to relay any details of the meeting pending a news conference to be held in Stockholm Wednesday morning.
“At this point I’m cautiously optimistic and hope by the time this meeting is over significant progress will have been made,” he said.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry issued a brief statement saying the discussion was “fruitful and constructive” and that “important progress had been made.”
Members of the ministry took part in the meeting, along with the five Americans, Arafat and his delegation. The meeting was held at the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament. It was facilitated by Swedish Foreign Minister Sten Andersson.
Rosensaft, who has challenged mainstream Jewish organizations before as head of both LZA and the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, left Monday night for Stockholm with four other American Jews drawn from groups supporting Israel’s left.
FOUR OTHER PARTICIPANTS
Joining him were:
Drora Kass, executive director of the U.S. arm of the Tel Aviv-based International Center for Peace in the Middle East. The center has long called for territorial compromise and direct talks between Israel and representatives of the Palestinian people. Abba Eban serves as its international chairman.
Rita Hauser, attorney and American chairwoman of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. Hauser recently wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times urging the United States to open talks with the PLO, which are currently outlawed.
Stanley Sheinbaum, economist and publisher of the liberal journal NPq. Sheinbaum is prominent in the Los Angeles area, where he supports a number of liberal causes.
Abraham Udovitch, chairman of the Near Eastern studies department at Princeton University and member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mainstream Jewish organization were quick to condemn the meeting, which was first announced Monday afternoon. Among those issuing condemnatory statements were the American Zionist Federation, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, B’nai B’rith International, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, said the delegation “does not represent the mainstream of Jewish opinion in the United States” and the meeting “does not reflect a softening in American Jewish attitudes” toward the PLO.
The American Zionist Federation statement, which called the Jewish participants “actors in Yasir Arafat’s public relations melodrama,” was signed by the organization’s president, Benjamin Cohen, one of Rosensaft’s predecessors as president of the Labor Zionist Alliance.
Rosensaft’s participation in the meeting puts him on a collision course not only with his own organization and most mainstream Jewish organizations, but with Israel’s Labor Party, with which the LZA is affiliated.
HERTZBERG. SCHINDLER DECLINED
Labor leader Shimon Peres came out strongly against initiatives made by the PLO at the Palestine National Council meeting last month in Algiers. The PNC declared a Palestinian state and only indirectly recognized Israel.
The Labor Party also has joined the Likud in rejecting official talks with representatives of the PLO. Israelis who have openly met with the PLO in the past have been prosecuted.
According to sources, Peres was not consulted about the Americans’ meeting with Arafat.
Two prominent American Jewish leaders, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg and Rabbi Alexander Schindler, denied an Israel Radio report that they had “backed out” of the meeting. Both said they had been invited to participate, but declined. They would not say who had invited them.
Hertzberg, a professor of Judaic studies at Dartmouth College, is vice president of the World Jewish Congress. Schindler is president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
In Stockholm, the American Jewish delegation was invited Tuesday night to a banquet for Arafat and his delegation hosted by the Swedish government. Rosensaft did not attend.
Earlier, Sweden greeted Arafat with the pomp usually reserved for visiting heads of state. Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson reportedly cut short a visit to France and rushed home to meet Arafat. Sweden has warm relations with the PLO, which maintains a representative’s office in Stockholm.