No Pressure on Israel to Negotiate with Plo, Baker Tells Jewish Leaders

Secretary of State James Baker assured Jewish leaders Tuesday that the United States will not pressure Israel to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Baker, who met for 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon with members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has been quoted several times in recent weeks as saying that Israeli negotiations with the PLO should not be ruled out.

But Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the conference, said Baker told the Jewish leaders that the Bush administration would not press Israel to engage in such talks.

The Bush administration is eagerly waiting to hear the new peace proposals Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir says he will bring with him to Washington next week.

The administration is “very anxious that the prime minister bring some new ideas for the peace process.” Baker said in an interview published Tuesday by The New York Times.

They should not be “ideas that have been discussed and surfaced before,” he told the Times, but rather proposals that “broke new ground and that would also serve to improve the climate in the region between the parties, so that ultimately we can find a way to get some direct negotiations started.”

Shamir said in Jerusalem Sunday that he would propose to the Bush administration “things I have not said before.”

“I have no doubt that the prime minister will bring new peace initiatives,” said Seymour Reich, who chairs the Conference of Presidents and led the delegation that met with Baker.

REPORTED ON SOLIDARITY CONFERENCE

Reich said the Jewish leaders gave the secretary of state their perceptions of the recent solidarity conference in Jerusalem, which drew 1,500 Jewish leaders from around the world, half of them from the United States.

Reich, who is also president of B’nai B’rith International, said that Shamir did not reveal his specific proposals to the Jewish leaders, nor did they expect him to do so.

He said it was made clear to Baker, as it was to the Israeli government, that the Jewish leaders had not gone to Jerusalem to endorse any specific proposals.

The meeting in Jerusalem was a “gathering of Jews throughout the world expressing their solidarity with Israel in time of great tension and eagerness and anticipation of the prime minister’s visit,” Reich said.

The solidarity conference issued a 144-word declaration supporting the Israeli government “in its effort to achieve peace and security with its neighbors.”

Before Shamir comes to Washington, Bush will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on April 3. He will meet with Shamir on April 6 and with King Hussein of Jordan on May 2.

Reich said Baker would not “expect peace to break out the day after the prime minister left” Washington. “This was going to be a long process.”

SESSION WITH REPUBLICAN LEADER

The Conference of Presidents also met this week with Lee Atwater, chairman of the Republican National Committee. Some 70 Jewish leaders participated in the meeting, which took place Monday in New York.

Hoenlein said this was part of an outreach program to bring opinion molders, including members of Congress, together with the Jewish community for an “ongoing dialogue.” He said the aim was to “get people together to see the Jewish community and get the Jewish community to see them.”

Ron Brown, the Democratic Party chairman, has accepted an invitation for a similar meeting, and it is expected to be scheduled soon, Reich said.

He said Atwater had never before met formally with the Jewish community and many in the Jewish community had never met him. Atwater outlined his proposals for the Republican Party to reach out to Jews and other ethnic groups, Reich said.

In response to a question, the Republican leader expressed his support for voluntary prayer in the schools, something which many Jews oppose.

Reich and Hoenlein expressed satisfaction with the Atwater meeting. But, Robert Blumenthal, director of special projects of the United Synagogue of America, said that while he appreciated Atwater “being up front, people didn’t seem enthralled with him.”

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