Bill Limiting U.S. Contacts with PLO Opposed by Some Jewish Organizations

At least two mainstream Jewish groups joined the Bush administration this week in lobbying the Senate against a proposed measure that would bar U.S. contacts with Palestine Liberation Organization officials considered to be associated with terrorist acts.

Both the American Jewish Congress and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations said that in doing so, they were seeking to preserve Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s troubled peace initiative.

Other Jewish groups actively supported the measure, which was introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) as an amendment to a bill authorizing funds for the State Department.

The amendment had strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. But it was strongly opposed by the Bush administration, which succeeded in persuading the Senate to delay a vote on the measure Tuesday.

The White House was said to be concerned that additional restrictions imposed on the already limited U.S.-PLO dialogue would hinder progress toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a view shared by AJCongress and UAHC.

On Wednesday, four senators met with top administration officials to work out compromise language that would make the bill acceptable to both Helms and the White House.

The revised language prohibits U.S. talks “with any representative of the PLO unless or until the president concludes and advises the Congress that he has determined that the representative did not directly participate in or conspire in the planning or execution of a terrorist activity which resulted in the death or kidnapping of an American citizen.”

WOULD ‘DESTROY’ SHAMIR PEACE PLAN

The issue surfaced in the Senate three weeks after the revelation that the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau, had met with Salah Khalaf, a top PLO official also known as Abu Iyad.

Khalef founded the extremist Black September terrorist organization held responsible for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972.

He was also implicated in the 1973 killing of the U.S. ambassador to Sudan, Cleo Noel Jr. And he was indicted in Italy last month on charges that he helped supply PLO arms to the Red Brigades.

But Henry Siegman, executive director of AJCongress, said Tuesday that the Helms amendment would “effectively destroy” Shamir’s plan to allow Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to elect representatives to conduct peace talks with Israel.

“If we wish the PLO leadership to play a constructive role, by permitting the elections to go forward, then the very last thing we should be saying to the PLO is that, no matter what they do and no matter how constructive a role they play, we will never raise the level of our dialogue with them,” Siegman said.

TERRORISTS SHOULDN’T BE ‘REWARDED’

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of UAHC, the congregational arm of Reform Judaism in the United States, declared that the Helms amendment, “however well-intentioned, would represent an additional obstacle on a road already littered with dangers.

“If adopted, it would make it all but impossible for the American negotiations with the PLO in Tunis to continue,” Schindler said.

“Outside pressures such as the Helms amendment and the Likud effort to impose conditions on the peace process will serve only to make it easier for those who seek to torpedo the Israeli initiative,” he said.

Ira Silverman, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, said in a telephone interview that the amendment was “not helpful” and would “derail” the peace process.

“The U.S.-PLO dialogue can be useful at this stage in urging the PLO to cooperate, to partici- pate in the Israeli elections initiative,” Silverman said. “It does not need to be burdened at this moment with additional baggage.”

The Helms amendment was backed, however, by a number of groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Washington-based pro-Israel lobby.

B’nai B’rith International strongly supported the amendment in a statement issued Tuesday.

Daniel Mariaschin, director of public affairs, asserted that “terrorists deserve no place at negotiating tables. They should certainly not be rewarded for their crimes with recognition as official interlocutors of the United States government.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said in a statement Tuesday that limiting talks with the PLO could be “a useful reminder that the United States cannot advance the peace process by talking to individuals who are directly involved in terrorist acts.”

Milton Shapiro, president of the Zionist Organization of America, criticized the organizations that have opposed the Helms Amendment.

In a statement issued Wednesday, he said their actions “imply support for a policy that accepts the PLO, does the cause of justice severe harm” and undermines Israel’s efforts to seek “moderate voices among the Palestinian people so that a peaceful solution can be found.”

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