JERUSALEM (Feb. 8)
The Palestinians are serious about living in peace with Israel and therefore the Israeli government should be prepared to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization, a prominent Arab attorney told a high-level delegation of American Jewish leaders here Wednesday.
“This people has decided that it wants to be free, that it is prepared to pay the price, but that it is also ready for compromise,” Jonathan Kuttab told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“It is in Israel’s own interests to jump at this historic opportunity, because if they don’t, I’m afraid the consequences are going to be tragic, frankly, for both of our peoples,” he said.
Kuttab, who has defended Palestinians in the administered territories and has emerged as a prominent spokesman for the Palestinians, tried to convince the American Jewish leaders that Israel should negotiate with the PLO.
“You must negotiate with a person who has the power of attorney, who has the authority to negotiate,” he said. “Like it or not, the reality is that only the PLO speaks for the Palestinian population — nobody else does.”
What the Palestinians are calling for, he said, is a two-state solution: a Palestinian state roughly in the territories that were occupied in 1967, living side by side with the State of Israel.
Members of the Conference of Presidents appeared to be impressed with the Arab attorney’s remarks, if not somewhat skeptical.
“If the PLO truly wants to live with Israel, why has it not renounced the Palestine National Covenant, which calls for Israel’s destruction?” asked Milton Shapiro, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
“It is true that Palestinians believe and continue to believe that all of Palestine belongs to us,” Kuttab responded. But he said that Palestinians had come to realize the need for pragmatic compromise.
“Many Zionists,” he noted, “favor Jewish control over all of Biblical Israel, and some are calling for the transfer of the Arab population.”
Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, ended the session by thanking Kuttab for coming, but assailing some of his remarks.
Reich said that Israel cannot whitewash over Yasir Arafat’s threat to pump bullets into the chests of Palestinian moderates or ignore the infiltration attempt by members of Habash’s group last weekend.