American Jewish Leaders Fighting to Keep Israeli Peace Plan Alive

Like a team of doctors, the American Jewish leadership is fighting to save the life of the Israeli government’s peace initiative. There is, however, no consensus on what particular prescription would be most effective to prevent the plan from dying.

After an emergency meeting Tuesday of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Chairman Seymour Reich issued a statement reiterating support for the initiative and calling on Israel to “do whatever is necessary” to preserve the plan.

But the statement steers clear of criticizing or putting pressure on either the Likud or Labor parties. There was no mention of the conditions placed on the peace plan last week by the Likud Central Committee or of the Labor Executive’s decision to recommend withdrawing from the national unity government in protest of those conditions.

“Regardless of what our views are on the actions of Likud last week or Labor this week, we agree that the peace initiative must move forward,” said Albert Chernin, executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, who attended the meeting.

The statement’s approach differs from actions reportedly taken by the Bush administration, which is said to have sent diplomatic messages to Israel urging the Labor Party to remain in the national unity government.

The conference took a more neutral position, partly because it said it would not interfere in Israeli party politics, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, the conference’s executive director.

SHAMIR URGED TO PROVIDE ASSURANCES

But another reason was that member organizations were “deeply divided,” according to one source within the conference, about whether Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir should be criticized for mortally wounding the peace plan by bowing to the conditions set by Likud hard-liners, or whether Labor should be criticized for threatening to pull out of the government.

Some Jewish leaders are asking that Shamir renounce the conditions he agreed to at the Likud meeting in the interests of preserving both the peace plan and the national unity government.

Ira Silverman, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, sent a letter Tuesday to Shamir, urging the Israeli premier to “reassure the other parties in the government that you will pursue the peace plan without prior constraints imposed by any political power.”

Officials from the American Jewish Congress also have contacted Israeli government officials to discuss the issue, according to Henry Siegman, the group’s executive director.

Earlier in the week, Reich spoke to Israeli officials, reminding them of the importance of preserving unity, though he said he stopped short of interfering in Israeli domestic politics.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith wrote a letter to Secretary of State James Baker on Monday expressing concern about his statement last weekend that the United States would have to consider an international peace conference if Israel’s peace initiative fell through.

Shamir adamantly opposes an international conference hosted by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, because he feels it would put Israel under undue pressure to make concessions against its interests.

In the letter, ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, also voiced concern that the State Department’s attitude toward the Palestine Liberation Organization had softened as a result of the U.S. dialogue with PLO representatives in Tunis.

As evidence of this softened stance, Foxman pointed to the State Department’s failure initially to condemn last week’s attack on an Israeli passenger bus as “terrorism.”

Only on Tuesday, after Israel’s Foreign Ministry held a news conference in Jerusalem to voice the same criticism, did a State Department spokesman in Washington issue a statement calling the July 6 incident an act of terrorism.

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