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Jewish Leaders Around Globe Holding Meetings with the PLO

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The first-ever public meeting between the lay leader of the Anglo-Jewish community and the Palestine Liberation Organization representative to the United Kingdom took place in London this week, with both men giving a ringing endorsement of the self-rule accord recently signed in Washington by Israel and the PLO.

In an echo of the historic moment between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat at the White House on Sept. 13, the president of the Jewish Board of Deputies here, Judge Israel Finestein, and PLO diplomat Afif Safieh sealed their meeting with a handshake.

Their meeting, under the auspices of an interfaith group, was one of several first-ever encounters between Jewish leaders and PLO officials that have been held in various countries since relations between Israel and the PLO began to thaw.

Foreign Minister Douglas Hogg was expected to invite Arafat to visit London, the London Jewish Chronicle has learned. Hogg and Arafat were expected to meet later this week in Tunis.

A visit to London would boost Arafat’s standing in the administered territories, where his supporters face opposition from militants.

In London, Safieh told the audience of Jewish leaders and Arab diplomats that recent polls indicate there is overwhelming support for the self-rule accord among Palestinians.

A survey taken in Gaza, he said, revealed that more than 70 percent are in favor of the accord, while 11 percent oppose it.

“History is in the making,” Safieh declared.

MEETING IN SYDNEY, BRUSSELS

In Sydney, Australia, the elected head of the Australian Jewish community and the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Australia took part for the first time in a direct, person-to-person exchange.

The meeting last week between Isi Leibler, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and PLO representative Ali Kazak focused on the need to encourage dialogue between Australian Jews and Muslims and on ways in which Australians and the Australian government could support projects that would provide economic assistance to the Middle East.

In Belgium, PLO representative Chawki Armali met with the Jewish community and, for more than an hour, took part in a radio show organized by the Belgian Jewish radio station, Radio Judaica.

The Jewish audience, which did not conceal its concern and distrust, listened carefully to Armali’s declarations.

“My presence here among you proves the reality of the psychological shock caused by the Israel-PLO agreement,” he said.

He explained that the PLO wants to build a society that is pluralist, democratic and respectful of human rights.

Armali also stressed the need to continue to explain the self-rule agreement to the Palestinians “in order to stop violence and to counter the extremists such as Hamas.”

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Jeremy Jones in Sydney, Australia, and Joseph Kopel in Brussels.)

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