NEW YORK (Mar. 16)
Speaking in almost apocalyptic terms Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens warned leaders of American Jewry not to allow the world to drive a wedge between them and Israel.
“During the Holocaust, it is agreed that the American Jewish leadership did not do everything it could have done or should have done,” said Arens. “Let that be an object lesson that we never again fail to live up to our responsibilities.”
Arens delivered his warning to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations after meeting this week with President Bush and his top foreign policy advisers.
Like the “Solidarity With Israel” conference planned for next week, his words indicated concern within Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government that American Jews may not fully support Israel’s peace plans.
Shamir is expected to reveal those plans in detail when he visits Washington in April.
During Arens’ meetings Monday with Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, the Americans were said to be exploring immediate steps to improve the atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians. These were reported to include reductions in the Israeli troop presence in the territories and a Palestinian moratorium on violent demonstrations there.
Arens said his government is proceeding on a “three-track program”: trying to bring Jordan’s King Hussein to the peace table, finding Palestinian “interlocutors” with whom to talk and urging other Arab countries to follow Egypt’s lead in making peace.
SCOLDS FIVE WHO MET ARAFAT
He called Israel’s struggles in the Middle East “a battle between civilizations, between cultures.”
The Palestinian uprising, he conceded, is based on legitimate grievances and aspirations. “But over and above those desires and aspirations, and the squalor of the refugee camps, is an element of fanaticism, brutality, Islamic fundamentalism and Palestinian radicalism so characteristic of the region in which we live,” he said.
Arens reproached Jews who see the conflict in anything less than those terms. His listeners applauded each time he criticized American Jews and Israelis who have met with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he accused of “some of the worst atrocities since World War II.”
Arens said he “couldn’t understand” the five American Jews who met with PLO leader Yasir Arafat in Stockholm in December. “Why any Jew, or any self-respecting person, would want to do that, I have no answer,” he said.
One of the five, Menachem Rosensaft, was in the room listening to Arens’ address in his capacity as president of the Labor Zionist Alliance.
Arens also said that the left-wing Knesset members who met PLO members this week at a peace conference in New York “were putting pressure on the Israeli government via other governments.”
But the foreign minister also said he was “annoyed” by charges that Shamir does not want to make peace. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said, admitting that impressions that Israel is an obstacle to peace are the result of poor public relations.
DANGER ‘LURKING IN THE SHADOWS’
Arens spoke repeatedly of the need to include Jordan’s King Hussein in resolving the Palestinian conflict, something his Likud party formerly opposed.
“Jordan is a Palestinian country in everything but name,” he said. “You can’t talk about addressing the (Palestinian issue) without talking to Hussein or the Jordanians. They must wholly be part of the process.”
If Hussein resists talking on behalf of the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as the king has indicated, then Israel “must find interlocutors on the ground,” and protect them from threats from the PLO.
“Such authentic interlocutors may be sympathizers with the PLO,” Arens said. “But there is a world of a difference between someone who has to respond to a constituency on the ground and who listens to orders from Tunis,” where PLO headquarters are located.
Arens returned again and again to the theme of Israel’s cultural isolation in the Middle East and the violence of Palestinian rioters in the territories. But he said there is “more of a danger to Israel lurking in the shadows” — an oblique reference to a perceived decline in American Jewish support.
“Firebombs, rocks and knives are dangerous to individual Israelis, not a danger to Israel’s existence. But there’s no need for me to tell you what political ramifications it could bring about if there was a sense of political isolation,” he said.