Sharon Tries and Apparently Fails to Sway American Jewish Leaders

Rebel Likud politician Ariel Sharon presented his own outline for Middle East peace to a group of American Jewish leaders Tuesday, but his proposals received a decidedly unenthusiastic reception.

Ten members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations met with Sharon for 45 minutes in the hotel suite of conference Chairman Seymour Reich.

Sharon requested the meeting to explain why he resigned from the Cabinet last week. He told the group he quit as a warning to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and for Israel’s own good.

The former minister of industry and trade said he had opposed Israel’s peace plan, but had gone along with it until his resignation for political reasons. But now, he told them, he wants to stop the plan before Shamir moves the country into even more “dangerous territory.”

Sharon criticized Shamir for caving in, first by agreeing to hold preliminary talks with a Palestinian delegation, and now by appearing to accept the inclusion in that delegation of Palestinians deported from the territories or living in East Jerusalem.

When asked by the Americans to present an alternative proposal, Sharon told them he believed that peace would only come about if:

A peace treaty is struck with the Arab nations, not the Palestinians.

* There is a reduction in Middle East arms stockpiles, negotiated by a superpower.

* The borders with Jordan are opened so that citizens can travel back and forth freely.

* Gaza is developed, with industry established and modern housing built for Palestinian refugees.

SUPPORT FOR THE SHAMIR PLAN

Sharon reportedly was challenged on his statements a number of times by the group. Most were highly critical afterward.

“I regard these proposals as extraordinarily unrealistic. They will happen when the Messiah comes,” said Howard Squadron, a former chairman of the conference.

Another prominent participant in the meeting said Sharon was pursuing a “destructive path” by trying to scuttle the peace proposal currently on the table.

The group left the meeting “with the impression that Sharon does not have the answers for Israel,” said the participant.

Overall, there is not a great deal of support for Sharon’s position among the members of the Conference of Presidents attending its Israel seminar. Even those who staunchly oppose territorial compromise seem to think that negotiations with Palestinians should at least be attempted.

“American Jewish leaders have decided that the Shamir peace plan must be supported,” said Robert Lifton, president of the American Jewish Congress.

He said that American Jews believe in moving the process forward, “even if it holds out the possibility that an end result might be something they don’t necessarily agree with.”

But Morris Amitay, vice president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, said that while Sharon’s ideas are farfetched, they are no more outlandish than proposals for a two-state solution that the conference had heard Monday from Peace Now activists.

Like the military veteran he is, Sharon is positioning himself strategically, so that “in six months or so, if the peace process falls through, he will be there to pick up the pieces,” said Amitay.

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