NEW YORK, March 5 (JTA) — An American Jewish group told Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat this week that it was counterproductive to call in third parties in the dispute over planned Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem. Arafat, in turn, conceded that it was “preferable” to engage directly with Israel in such disputes. But a few hours later, he told members of the United Nations Security Council that the diplomats are obligated to help save the Israeli- Palestinian peace process which he says is being threatened by building plans for Har Homa. The Security Council then began a debate on Har Homa that was expected to last more than a day. Israel’s decision last week to build some 6,500 housing units at the vacant hill of Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem has sparked a new conflict with the Palestinians, who are staunchly opposed to the project and claim that it is a violation of the accords with Israel. The exchange with Arafat came during a meeting Wednesday of about 10 members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The meeting with Arafat lasted for about an hour and focused on the importance of building public confidence in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, said Howard Squadron, a past chairman of the conference who led the meeting. He said the conference members stressed to Arafat that public rhetoric affects public trust in the process and urged him to focus on the progress that has been made between the parties. According to Squadron, Arafat said he was frustrated by not having more direct access to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Arafat suggested that he would not have turned to the international community as readily about Har Homa had Netanyahu communicated more directly with him. Arafat said he had “discouraged violence” over the matter and “indicated he agrees it is not the proper way to proceed” during a dispute, Squadron said. Palestinian protests against the Har Homa project have been peaceful. In response to questions about the Palestinian Covenant, Arafat said the Palestine National Council had already annulled 29 clauses that were inconsistent with the accords with Israel. A group of about 50 demonstrators affiliated with the Jewish Defense Group protested the Arafat meeting, according to Rabbi Yaakov Lloyd, its head. “We were pretty outraged at the fact that Arafat, who is really a murderer, was shaking the hands of Jews who, if he had the chance, he would murder,” said Lloyd in a recorded telephone message. A smaller gathering was organized by the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA to protest Arafat’s visit to the United Nations. The group also intended to show support for Har Homa and the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem, said Ronn Torossian, the young leadership coordinator for the group.
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