Peace Now Activists Are Thwarted in Move to Meet with Palestinians

Peace Now, the largest and most effective grass-roots peace movement in Israel, is running into physical obstacles and ideological difficulties as it presses for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

About 3,000 activists planning to hold “peace meetings” with Palestinians in the administered territories Saturday were stopped by Israel Defense Force roadblocks.

Except for a relative handful who managed to elude the soldiers, the activists were frustrated in their attempt.

But that is not the only impasse facing Peace Now. The movement itself is faced with significant defections for the first time since it was formed to advance the cause of peace in the aftermath of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977.

Veteran activists, including some on the political left, have quit in protest over what they regard as Peace Now’s deviation from the middle road.

The great strength of the movement, they argue, was its broad appeal. It campaigned for peace, but it did not draw maps or adopt a specific stand on the delicate issues of negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

It was therefore able to rally many diverse groups to the peace camp. Now, it is alienating many of them by preaching talks with the PLO.

That is not acceptable even to many on the left, at least not as long as the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, continues.

WELCOMED BY VILLAGERS

The IDF threw up the roadblocks Saturday at the specific orders of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

He laid down the rule that “peace meetings” could not be held without the advance permission of the military authorities.

This is a paradox, because Rabin is the primary advocate of elections in the territories so that the Arabs can choose local leaders with whom Israel could negotiate.

But defense establishment sources pointed out that “there is one law for the settlers and the Peace Now activists.” He was referring to the fact that the 80,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are forbidden from holding political demonstrations.

About 200 Peace Now emissaries managed to infiltrate the IDF cordons and were warmly received by Palestinian villagers, who had been alerted to expect them.

In fact, the underground leaders of the intifada gave instructions to receive the Peace Now people enthusiastically.

In Beit Ummar village, near Hebron, hundreds of villagers waiting in the main street from early morning cheered as the peace activists approached. They were invited to the home of the village head for a long talk.

Elsewhere in the territories, the IDF continued to clash with demonstrators, and casualties mounted.

Two Palestinians were shot and wounded Sunday in Ramallah, in a stone-throwing skirmish with soldiers. Six youths were wounded in other clashes Friday and Saturday.

In East Jerusalem, two gasoline bombs were thrown from the Moslem Quarter of the Old City at a house in the Jewish Quarter. No one was hurt, and only slight damage was done.

The curfew on Nablus, the West Bank’s largest Arab city, entered its second week Sunday. It was imposed on Feb. 24, after an Israeli soldier, Binyamin Meisner, was killed in the casbah.

HUSSEINI EN ROUTE TO U.S.

Meanwhile, Palestinian activist Faisal al-Husseini left for London on Sunday, en route to the United States to participate in a meeting sponsored jointly by the magazine New Outlook and the East Jerusalem Arabic daily Al-Fajr.

It is Husseini’s first trip abroad in 12 years. He was freed from prison last month after spending 12 of the previous 13 months under administrative detention.

He said he has not yet received his American visa.

Husseini, though a supporter of the PLO, is now considered a moderate. The meeting in New York will be attended by senior PLO officials and by several left-wing Knesset members: Shulamit Aloni, Yossi Sarid and Ran Cohen of the Citizens Rights Movement and Yair Tsaban of Mapam.

NEXT STORY