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Diaspora Leaders Urge Israel to Reconsider Talks with PLO

Leaders of Diaspora Jewry gathered here for the Prime Minister’s Conference on Jewish Solidarity With Israel are urging Israel to reconsider its opposition to negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

But Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told the 300-member conference steering committee Monday that his government was united in opposition to such talks and to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

He told his audience that the Palestinians living “west of the Jordan” would have to be satisfied with a limited form of self-government as an interim arrangement. The final status of the territories could only be discussed after such an interim arrangement had proved itself for some time.

However, the prime minister did acknowledge that the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could not continue for long. He said that he would present new ideas for furthering the peace process during his visit to Washington next month, but he did not elaborate.

On another subject, the premier was reported to have told the world Jewish leaders that the “Who Is a Jew” issue is not on the Israeli legislative agenda at present.

He called on Diaspora leaders to work out a formula acceptable to all of the various streams of Judaism.

The prime minister’s remarks were made in a closed-door session of the steering committee in advance of Monday night’s official opening of the solidarity conference, which is being attended by some 1,200 Jewish leaders form around the world. Shamir briefed reporters on the essence of his remarks after his address.

RECAPTURING ‘MORAL HIGH GROUND’

Also addressing the steering committee Monday were Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive.

Israeli newspapers had recently criticized the composition of the steering committee, charging that it had been hand-picked by Israeli diplomats, rather than elected by the Jewish organizations represented at the solidarity conference.

But judging by the Diaspora leaders’ remarks Monday, more than “yes men” were invited to participate on the committee.

Israel Radio reported that nearly every single speaker from the floor during the steering committee meeting urged Israel to consider negotiating with the PLO now or in the future.

Dr. Lionel Kopelowitz, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jewry, was quoted as asking, “What criteria would the PLO have to fulfill, and what change of policy would have to take place, which would permit Israel to talk to the PLO? Because ultimately talks are held with your enemies, and not with your friends.”

“Israel must recapture the moral high ground and provide the agenda for peace for this region, to which other countries must respond,” he said.

Nissim Gaon, president of the World Sephardi Federation, recalled that Sephardi Jews had played a role in promoting the dialogue with the late president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat. The same thing should be done in the future for Israel and the Palestinians, he said.

But Shamir was not in the room when most of this exchange took place.

LABOR MAY QUIT GOVERNMENT

Charlotte Jacobson, veteran leader of Hadas sah and treasurer of the Jewish National Fund, said she was disappointed that there was no opportunity when the premier addressed the delegates to discuss his forthcoming trip to the United States.

She warned that American public opinion was turning against Israel and in favor of PLO leader Yasir Arafat.

In his remarks to the leaders, Vice Premier Peres hinted that his Labor Party might have to pull out of the Likud-led national unity government before the year is out, if the two sides cannot reach agreement on an approach to accelerate the peace process.

“I think we shall have to make up our minds in the coming months,” he said. “If we can find a joint solution, fine. If not, we shall have to make a historic choice. We will have to make it in a fair way, a united way, in a civilized way,” he said.

Peres, who serves as finance minister in the Cabinet, told the steering committee that the Jewish people had never ruled over another people, and that no other people had ever ruled over the Jewish people.

No concessions should be made to terrorism or violence, he said, but concessions should be made for peace.

Foreign Minister Arens, a Likud ally of Shamir’s, told the steering committee Monday that the Palestinian uprising would not destroy the State of Israel.

“But if this series of violent acts brings about political ramifications and creates an impression that Israel is isolated, that it doesn’t have the support anymore of the Jewish community in the U.S., or other Jewish communities, that the U.S.-Israeli relationship has been damaged, then mortal danger will be lurking in the shadow for Israel and the Jewish people,” he warned.

He urged would Jewry to express solidarity with the Jewish state.

Arens noted that the same chemical weapons that served to annihilate millions of Jews during the Holocaust were now surfacing in the Middle East.

Iraq used chemical warfare against the Kurds, and no one protested, he said. By the same logic, he said, the Iraqis and others will not hesitate to use it against Israel.

The conference itself was officially opened Monday night by President Chaim Herzog, who told the delegates that they were here not as supporters of any given policy, but as loyal Jews.

(Contributing to this report were JTA Managing Editor Elli Wohlgelerneter and Israel correspondents Gil Sedan and Hugh Orgel.)

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