JERUSALEM (Mar. 20)
As Jews from around the would gathered in Jerusalem on Monday for the Prime Minister’s Conference on Jewish Solidarity With Israel, a top American Jewish leader rejected allegations that the hidden agenda of the conference is to endorse Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s policies.
“This conference is not a theater. It is real,” said Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“We want to give (Shamir) the backing to engage in the peace process,” he told reporters over breakfast Monday at the Jerusalem Laromme Hotel.
He said that by convening this conference, Shamir was taking a certain risk since he would be opening himself up to criticism over his policy.
But either way, Reich added, Shamir will gain. Either a majority of Jewish leaders will support the government’s policies or the prime minister will be exposed to a variety of views.
The real purpose of the conference, he said, is to express Jewish unity in support of Israel’s needs.
Ben-Gurion Airport was crowded Monday afternoon with arriving delegates from such organizations as the Jewish National Fund and American Jewish Congress. The conference opened Monday night at Binyenei Ha’uma, Jerusalem’s convention center.
Reich praised Jewish leaders for coming in such large numbers for a conference that barely lasts three days. He noted that participants are paying their own fares.
The conference is expected to draw some 1,200 Jewish leaders from around the world. Shamir had originally hoped for 3,000 delegates, but Reich said he expected even smaller numbers than those who eventually showed up.
Reich chose his words carefully when asked how the conference would deal with the sensitive issue of negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“Very few of the participants of the solidarity conference would support a Palestinian state,” he said, “but there might be some who might support negotiations with the PLO.”
He said that when members of the Conference of Presidents met at the White House earlier this month with President Bush, they did not get the impression that the United States was rushing to press Israel to enter into negotiations with the PLO.
Rather, he said, he expected the United States to pressure the PLO to allow Palestinians in the territories to elect their own representatives, as Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin has proposed.
Reich said he expects Shamir to come to Washington next month with ideas that will “move the peace process forward. I think he is bringing peace proposals that will be acceptable to Washington,” he said.
Reich, who also is president of B’nai B’rith International, described Shamir as “a very sharp, a very smart and a very capable leader to effectuate a peace initiative that will be acceptable by the Americans.”
But peace will not come immediately after the Shamir visit,” Reich cautioned. “We waited 30 years for the Camp David accords, and any progress will take time.”