Two of the chief architects of the Israel-Palestinian peace agreement and one of its leading opponents offered sharply different visions this week for the future of relations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
One after the other, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres; Nabil Sha’ath, minister of planning for the Palestinian Authority; and Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu addressed some 800 people gathered for the opening sessions of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council’s annual plenum here on Sunday.
Speaking after a standing ovation, Peres called on American Jews to extend “clear and unwavering” support for the peace process.
Israel is waging a “battle for peace” in the face of terrorism, the foreign minister said.
“We have to fight for peace as we fight to win wars,” he said. “We need to fill the political framework of peace with economic progress.”
The people of the Middle East need to be shown that “peace is not just a ceremony of politicians,” he added.
Peres also called on the PLO to “give a 100 percent effort to combat terrorism.”
“We don’t expect 100 percent results, only effort,” he said. “We demand a more concerned reaction.”
In addition to NJCRAC delegates, ambassadors from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Qatar and the Washington representative of the PLO attended the Peres and Sha’ath speeches.
In contrast to Peres’ plea for continued support for the peace process, Netanyahu called for an immediate halt in negotiations with the PLO and a reworking of the accords with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, who has been topping Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in recent opinion polls among the Israeli public, received a standing ovation from about one- third of the plenum delegates when he called for an overhaul of the peace process.
Netanyahu called Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority a “dictatorial regime” and labeled its police force “terrorists.”
The peace process is “leading to the creation of a huge terror base” in the West Bank that amounts to the “Planting of a huge bomb in the Middle East that will explode on all of us,” he said.
Netanyahu dedicated about half of his 45-minute speech to the issue of Jewish continuity and called for funding for every American Jewish teen-ager to be able to visit Israel for two weeks at no cost.
The third speaker, Sha’ath, speaking to the assembly via satellite from Cairo, called for a dramatic shift in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Sha’ath called for an immediate jump to the final-status negotiations. The time has come to “move boldly from the interim to the final-solution” talks, he said.
The Declaration of Principles specifies a two-year period of limited Palestinian self-rule before negotiating the final status of the territories. Among the issues to be addressed in final-status negotiations, slated to begin in May 1996, are Jerusalem and Jewish settlements.
Sha’ath acknowledged that the Palestinian Authority needs to “attempt to and do more to combat terrorism, despite the problems that we face” because that is “what is most important to Israel.”
“It is important that we protect Israeli security as must as our own in order to get our own freedom,” Sha’ath said.
Sha’ath called on Israel to end the closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip imposed after the Beit Lid Junction bombing last month in which 21 Israelis died. He also called for an end to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.
“Closure only breeds unemployment and a climate” for terrorists, he said.
Sha’ath also reiterated the PLO pledge to amend its covenant, which calls for the destruction of Israel.
“There’s no lack of resolve. We are committed to changing it,” he said, though he refused to say when this would occur.
Sha’ath and Peres are scheduled to meet in Washington next week with the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers in an attempt to build on progress made at last week’s Cairo summit.