NEW YORK (Jun. 17)
The United States needs to give Israel’s new government “breathing space” to develop a peace policy, former President Jimmy Carter told a group of American Jewish leaders Friday.
But a leading opposition member of the Israeli Knesset warned another group of Jewish leaders here the following day that if Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir does not move quickly to advance the peace process, Israel will face “a shift toward the worst way of pursuing a policy of peace in the region.”
Former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said that if Israel does not continue to work with Egypt and the United States toward an accommodation with the Palestinians, it will face increased pressure to take part in a U.N.-sponsored international peace conference, in which the Palestine Liberation Organization would likely play a central part.
Israel’s inevitable rejection of such an approach would lead to heightened tensions in the Middle East, increasing the threat of war, he said in an address Saturday to the National Commission meeting of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Carter, however, said he had “no doubt” that Israelis “want the peace process to go forward.”
“We need to give the new Shamir government time to assess what its priorities are and what the Israeli people want,” he told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
His position contrasted sharply with the impatience the Bush administration has shown toward what it perceives as Israeli unwillingness to advance the peace process.
The hour-long meeting with Carter was requested by the Conference of Presidents two months ago, after Carter returned from a stormy visit to the Middle East.
Seymour Reich, chairman of the conference, said the umbrella group had been concerned about Carter’s public criticism of alleged human rights infractions in Israel, while remaining silent about human rights abuses in Syria, which he also visited.
Reich said that during the session Friday, Carter appeared to show sensitivity toward Israeli difficulties in dealing with the Palestinian uprising, “though he may not have pronounced it at the time of his visit.”
DEFENDS REMARKS ON DEPORTATIONS
“I don’t think I made a mistake” in publicly criticizing the Israeli practice of deporting wives and children of Palestinians in the territories who were not legal residents, Carter told the group, saying that Israeli leaders had been responsive to his concerns.
He argued that because Israel is a democracy, he believes criticism can be made public, while in Syria, it is more effective to present concerns privately to President Hafez Assad.
At the meeting, the Jewish leaders praised Carter for his relationship with former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and rather pointedly “suggested it would be helpful if Bush emulated what Carter had done,” said Reich.
The rapport between Carter and Begin was “a clear contrast with Bush’s inability or unwillingness to develop a relationship with Shamir,” said Reich.
During the meeting, Carter said he believes that the 1978 Camp David accords he engineered are still the best framework for peace in the region.
When asked whether he advocates a Palestinian state, Carter replied, “I have never favored a Palestinian state. I have favored a Palestinian entity in confederation with Jordan” or “with both Jordan and Israel.”
In his speech to the ADL group, Rabin directed veiled barbs at the rhetoric of some of the hard-line members of the new Israeli government, though he refrained from criticizing it directly.
He said that while there is a serious military threat facing the Jewish state, “Israel is a strong country, though some Israeli politicians try to describe Israel as a weak country. It’s not true.”
He also rejected the idea of expanding Jewish settlement in the West Bank for security reasons, saying that the Jordan River is a necessary natural defense for Israel, but Ariel and Emmanuel, two strongholds of the settlement movement, are not.