Breaking Taboo, Gush Emunim Rabbi Meets with a Prominent Palestinian

A leader of the militant Gush Emunim movement of Jewish settlers in the West Bank has made a surprise visit to a Palestinian leader who supports the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In an action that stunned his movement, Rabbi Menahem Fruman of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa paid a courtesy visit to Faisal Husseini of East Jerusalem, who is frequently described by Gush Emunim as the PLO commander in the Jerusalem area.

“I came to meet with an enemy,” Fruman told the many reporters who surrounded him over the weekend.

“The idea of Greater Israel is so great that there is sufficient space also for the Palestinians who wish to live with us in coexistence,” he added.

Fruman did not initiate the publicity. He wanted the meeting to be a non-political means of “trying to get the two peoples closer.”

But once it was publicized, Fruman declared he would not be deterred by the angry reactions from the right wing. He said he intended to continue with the meetings.

“I represent the true option of the Jewish settlers in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the option which means making peace with the Arabs,” Fruman told reporters.

Fruman, who is 44 and the father of nine children, settled in Tekoa 13 years ago and has served ever since as the settlement’s rabbi. He has made several attempts to meet with Palestinians and found the goal not easy to implement.

Gush Emunim, which believes in the idea of a Greater Israel incorporating the territories captured during the 1967 Six-Day War, is opposed to such meetings.

Fruman said he and Husseini exchanged views, disagreed on most issues but agreed to meet again.

CRITICIZED BY FELLOW SETTLERS

With his move, Fruman has joined a virtual parade of Israeli government figures who have met with Husseini since he was released from prison in January, amid rumors that he was being groomed as a possible negotiating partner with Israel.

Husseini, who heads the Arab Research Institute in East Jerusalem, served two six-month terms in Israeli administrative detention for activities that were never made clear.

Among Jewish settlers, Husseini is deeply mistrusted. Nevertheless, Fruman’s meeting with Husseini was backed by some Jewish settlers. Residents of Tekoa issued a statement supporting their rabbi’s right to speak his mind.

Others were less generous.

A well-known Gush Emunim spokesperson announced over the weekend that by meeting with Husseini, Fruman excluded himself from the Gush Emunim circle, as well as the circle of true supporters of Zionism.

Daniella Weiss, a former chairwoman of Gush Emunim and one of the radical leaders of the movement, said the readiness to talk with the “No. 1″ representative of the PLO “does not become a civilized person.”

Baruch Marzel, a spokesman of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s far right-wing Kach movement, declared the movement would see to it that Fruman would be ousted from the settlement, “because he is in need of psychiatric treatment.”

For Husseini, the meeting with Fruman served as a golden opportunity to prove that the PLO is now willing to talk even to Gush Emunim.

Husseini described the meeting as “an attempt to open a window, so that one will recognize and get acquainted with the other. In the meeting, we Palestinians removed a barrier. We hope that the Israelis will drop their stereotyped view and will follow in the steps of Rabbi Fruman.”

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