American Jews Greet Self-rule Plan with Optimism, and Some Skepticism

American Jewish groups are by and large reaffirming their support for the government of Israel in the wake of its dramatic moves toward a preliminary settlement with the Palestinians on self-rule in the administered territories.

Groups on the right of the political spectrum are echoing the Likud opposition’s call for a vote of no confidence in the government. And groups on the left see vindication for their long-articulated support for direct dealings with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

But the centrist consensus position is probably best summed up by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“It’s a moment of optimism in the Jewish community,” he said. “Whether or not it’s optimism tinged with skepticism, or skepticism tinged with optimism, depends on what kind of political eyeglasses you wear.”

The Israeli government, mindful of the need to maintain its ties with the American Jewish community that were frayed several times in the first year of the Rabin administration, last week summoned to Jerusalem the leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Lester Pollack, the umbrella group’s chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive vice chairman, were briefed in anticipation of the developments by both Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Also late last week, the Israeli Consulate in New York called leaders of Jewish organizations to give them “a heads-up as to where things are moving,” as one of the leaders later described it.

Not only the Israelis were reaching out to American Jewish leaders. Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, was invited to Egypt last week, where he was briefed by both Egyptian and PLO leaders.

And on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher called Pollack of the Conference of Presidents to get the American Jewish community’s reaction to the developments.

‘OPPORTUNITY FOR REAL PEACE’

One factor complicating initial reactions was the tentative nature of the breakthrough.

Not only was it not officially approved by the Israeli Cabinet until Monday evening, but it was not altogether impossible that the government would collapse before the end of the week, because of the long-running scandal regarding Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

In a cautiously worded statement issued late Monday, the Conference of Presidents welcomed “reports that significant progress in the peace process may be imminent. While decisions on the specific points of agreement belong to the democratically elected government of Israel, we support it in its quest for a just and lasting peace.

“Once again, Israel is demonstrating in tangible ways its commitment and determination to achieve a real peace with its Arab neighbors while assuring security for its citizens. We take pride in Israel’s pledge that it will never refuse to say ‘yes’ to an opportunity for real peace.”

World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman sent a letter to world Jewry, saying: “At this decisive moment, the people of the State of Israel must know that the Jewish world stands behind them.”

It continued: “Just as we gave our full support to Israel in time of war, the Jewish communities of the Diaspora with equal vigor are one with Israel as it decides on the necessary steps toward peace. The world should know of our confidence and faith in the prime minister of Israel.”

Organizations on the left of the spectrum plan on stepping up their efforts to rally support for Rabin.

“We’re obviously very pleased,” said Gail Pressberg, president of Americans for Peace Now. “Rabin has in essence begun a process where both parties will be able to secure a peace, and we hope the community rallies” around him.

‘PRECURSOR TO A PLO STATE’

APN is launching a telegram campaign, in which it will ask its 10,000 claimed members to register their support for the peace initiative in messages to both the White House and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.

Project Nishma, a group that believes territorial concessions do not compromise Israeli security, plans to continue running an advertisement expressing support that Rabin can deliver a trustworthy peace for Israel.

“There’s a new wave of momentum in support of our ad,” said Tom Smerling, the group’s executive director. “Now rallying around Rabin becomes more important.”

Smerling cautioned that “it’s important for people to brace themselves for a wave of increased terror and violence, not to be surprised by it. We’ve always known that as peace draws closer, extremists will increase their activities.”

On the other end of the political spectrum, Americans for a Safe Israel is dismayed by the violence Israel may open itself up to by agreeing to negotiate with the PLO and allow the Palestinians to run their own affairs in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

“If this agreement goes forward, it is a precursor to a PLO state,” says AFSI Chairman Herb Zweibon, “and it is my belief that will either lead to a war, a very costly war, or the demise of the country.”

Rabbi Avi Weiss, president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha, sent a letter to Rabin urging a national referendum before making any concessions, the position taken by Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud party.

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