NEW YORK (May. 10)
A key political ally of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s told American Jewish leaders last week that he would not rule out eventual Palestinian statehood.
Speaking to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on May 6, Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer rejected a suggestion that the current peace talks threaten Israel because they may lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
“Maybe it will be in our interest to see a Palestinian state,” said Ben-Eliezer. “I don’t want it now, but who knows what will happen?”
Ben-Eliezer, in New York for the local Salute to Israel parade, served as West Bank military governor and coordinator of government activities in the administered territories before becoming a Labor Party Knesset member in 1984.
He brought his ample military experience to bear in arguing the case for peace to the Conference of Presidents.
He said his years in the West Bank taught him something crucial about the Palestinians with whom Israel is currently negotiating.
“I know them. I drank coffee with them,” he said. “They’re young, bright — yes some are militant — and dignified.
“If you sit and talk, you realize that they realize that coexistence has to be the solution, because if not, hell will break.
“There’s no reason to hide it from you: They are PLO,” he said, referring to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“The same PLO. No games. The same dreams, wishes, and flags. The only difference from those in (PLO headquarters in) Tunis is that they are realpolitik. They realize what can be done and cannot be done when they’re in dialogue with Israelis.
“They understand Israel, they understand Israelis,” he said.
NETANYAHU BLASTS ‘HEADLONG RUSH’
They understand further, he added, Israel’s refusal to include PLO leader Yasir Arafat or others from Tunis in the peace negotiations.
That refusal, he said, is based on Arafat’s inevitable demand that the status of Jerusalem, the return of Palestinian refugees and a Palestinian state all be addresed at the negotiating table now.
The Palestinians taking part in the peace talks, however, “are smart enough to know what is possible and not possible,” Ben-Eliezer said.
Ten minutes after Ben-Eliezer finished defending Israel’s approach to the negotiations, Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu could be heard criticizing that very approach to a different audience just three blocks away.
In a briefing for a small group of journalists, Netanyahu criticized “the headlong rush to the 1967 boundary that characterizes the government’s incompetent negotiating techniques.”
Netanyahu’s meeting with the journalists was part of a three-day trip to the United States that included several television and radio appearances and fund-raising for the Likud cause.
Netanyahu, recently elected to succeed former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir as head of the Likud party, was also promoting his newly published book, “A Place Among the Nations.”