NEW YORK (Dec. 7)
Reaction to a statement issued in Stockholm Wednesday by Yasir Arafat and a group of American Jews ranged from scathing criticism to qualified encouragement, with many U.S. Jewish groups taking a position of wary skepticism.
The statement, drafted jointly by Arafat and five American Jews who met with him Tuesday, was an explanation of the positions adopted last month in Algiers by the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s quasi-legislative body.
It said among other things that the PNC had "established the independent state of Palestine and accepted the existence of Israel as a state in the region."
The PNC also "declared its rejection and condemnation of terrorism in all its forms, including state terrorism," according to the statement.
In Jerusalem, Israeli leaders viewed the Arafat statement with skepticism.
Speaking on Israel Television, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said it was possible the PLO was hoping to recognize Israel "temporarily, in limited borders." But he said he doubted the terrorist organization would ever depart from its aim of liquidating Israel.
Shamir’s political rival, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, said that Arafat’s "terrorist" actions speak louder than his words.
"This does nothing to upgrade the ambiguity and double-talk the PLO has used in Algiers," said a statement issued by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. "We see it as a PLO-Swedish attempt to grant more credibility to the Algiers decision."
In Washington, reaction was muted. President Reagan said the United States wanted to study the PLO leader’s remarks before drawing any conclusions from them.
"We haven’t had time to review what it is he said specifically," Reagan told reporters as he boarded a helicopter on his way to greet Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in New York.
‘STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION’
Mainstream American Jewish opinion was generally negative. But Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said Arafat’s statement in Stockholm "appears to be a step in the right direction and deserves close study and consideration."
However, Schindler added, "I regret that it was offered as an interpretation of the PNC statement adopted in Algiers, which was filled with so many ambiguities."
The Reform rabbinical leader said that "ultimately if Yasir Arafat wants peace, he will have to make that peace not with the prime minister of Sweden, nor with the U.S. government, nor with American Jews — however well intentioned — but with Israel itself."
Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, welcomed the "new willingness of the PLO to seek political solutions to the Arab-Israel conflict."
But he said Arafat’s statements on recognizing Israel and renouncing terrorism "fall far short of the kind of reassurance" needed.
Morris Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, "I remain highly suspicious of Arafat’s true intent. His statement in Stockholm offers no grounds of confidence in his willingness or ability to make peace."
Abram also assailed "the role of the five American Jews who gave aid and comfort to Arafat."
He said that by backing the PNC’s Algiers statement, the five "branded themselves willing dupes of the PLO and permitted themselves to be exploited for purposes of PLO propaganda."
Thomas Neumann, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, asserted in a statement issued in Washington that Arafat has still not used "unambiguous words" to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism.
Abraham Foxman, national director of B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League, said the Arafat statement "failed to meet the need for clear recognition of Israel, clear repudiation of terrorism and a clear commitment to negotiate peace."
In one of the sharpest statements. Milton Shapiro, president of the Zionist Organization of America, called the Jews who met with Arafat "renegades" and said it was "presumptuous" for them to believe they could influence Arafat.