WASHINGTON (Feb. 15)
Ron Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has returned from a visit to Israel reassured about Israel’s commitment to the peace process, but also convinced that the process has to be speeded up.
Television “plays a significant role in public opinion,” and scenes of clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth in the West Bank and Gaza Strip “are not helpful, as far as making friends,” Brown said at a news conference last week with reporters from the Jewish media.
“The sooner that kind of situation can end, the better,” he said. “I think there is a clear understanding of that within the Israeli leadership.”
Brown himself saw first-hand evidence of this when a rock was thrown at his car as he was being driven through the West Bank. “You see the tension under which people live every day,” he said.
This was Brown’s third visit to Israel, but the first in 10 years. He was in Israel from Jan. 16 to 21 and then spent five days in Egypt. The trip was sponsored by the South Palm Beach County Jewish Federation.
The visit “really reinforced a lot of the feelings I’ve had about Israel for a long time,” Brown said.
These included his view that the special relationship between Israel and the United States should continue and that, while the United States has influence with Israel, “we cannot deliver Israel to anybody.”
TESTS SHAMIR’S PEACE COMMITMENT
Above all, the visit reinforced his concerns about Israel’s security needs. He said that no one can tour Israel’s borders without being “sensitized” to its security needs.
Brown said that before going to Israel he had heard rumors about the Israeli government’s position on the peace process.
“I looked Prime Minister (Yitzhak) Shamir in the eye in a one-on-one meeting and asked him if he is committed to the peace process,” Brown said. “He looked me back in the eye and told me he was. I take him at his word.”
Brown said he also met with Vice Premier Shimon Peres and other Israelis, who gave him a wide range of opinion about the peace process.
But he said he told the Israelis, as well as the Palestinians with whom he met on the West Bank, to “get away from some of these peripheral issues and get down to real serious negotiations about matters of substance.”
“My own impression is that some of the things we now hear are major stumbling blocks can be circumvented,” he said.
One issue Brown believes could be solved is the role that the Palestine Liberation Organization plays in the process if a “practical, pragmatic, realistic” approach is taken.
“Almost everyone who I talked to, even those who are most vehemently opposed to direct negotiations with the PLO, acknowledged that the PLO has to be at least tacitly involved,” he said. “Nobody can be at the table without PLO approval — if not a seal of approval, at least a wink.”
Brown said that in his meetings with Palestinians, “I assured them that, as a civil rights lawyer of long standing, I have concerns about human rights, not only there but around the world. The sooner we resolve these difficult issues, the better off everyone will be.”
A reporter pointed out that when Lee At-water, chairman of the Republican National Committee, visited Israel last year, he did not meet with Palestinians or visit the West Bank.
HAS OPPOSED PALESTINIAN STATE
“I do not know how you can go to that region of the world and not meet Palestinians,” Brown responded. He said the Israeli government did not object to such meetings and that he was encouraged to meet with Palestinians by leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who were in Israel at the same time.
Brown would not give his view on whether there should be a Palestinian state, saying that is up for the parties to decide. He noted that he had opposed resolutions urging a Palestinian state at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in 1988 and at state conventions.
Brown said that he brought up the issue of Israel’s relations with South Africa. He said that members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who met with Shamir when he was in Washington last year, told him that Shamir understood fully the intensity of feeling on that issue in America.
Shamir at the time promised that Israel’s defense contracts with South Africa would be phased out. Brown said that he urged Shamir to announce a timetable and was told later by Peres and AIPAC officials who met with Shamir that this would be done.
Brown said the most enjoyable and encouraging part of his visit was going to absorption centers, where he saw not only Soviet immigrants, but Jews from Ethiopia and other countries. He said he had a “wonderful experience” seeing adults learn Hebrew and then visiting a classroom with two children from the Soviet Union, two from Ethiopia and one from Morocco.
REACHING OUT TO JEWS
Brown praised the Israeli political leaders for “making their democracy work.” He said they have an “incredible amount of energy and patience” in living with the unity government.
This is not something he would like to see in the United States, since it is more easy to govern when one party is in charge.
“But we Democrats know a lot about coalition politics,” he added. “We are generally pretty good at it.
Brown said he has been working hard at maintaining the traditional Democratic coalition, including the support of Jews. He has been viewed with suspicion by some Jews, because he was the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s campaign manager at the 1988 convention.
“Nobody has spent more time than I have reaching out to the Jewish community,” Brown said, citing numerous appearances before Jewish groups. “Every opportunity I get, I am reaching out to the Jewish community, an extraordinarily important constituency to the Democratic Party.”
“I, as a chairman of the Democratic Party who happens to be of African decent, have a unique and special role to play in seeing that the relationship continues,” he said.
REMINDER: The JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published on Monday, Feb. 19.