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Hundreds rally to try to keep sputtering peace process alive

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 (JTA ) – Five years after the signing of the Oslo peace accords, Jewish activists gathered here this week to try to reignite the hope generated by the euphoria that surrounded the White House ceremony. More than 400 people marked the Sept. 13 anniversary at a rally on Sunday at Washington’s Adas Israel synagogue – joining with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s widow, Leah, the Clinton administration’s top Middle East diplomat, Martin Indyk, and an array of Jewish leaders – by rededicating themselves to the cause of peace. They came with the hope “that somehow, the new spirit all of us felt five years ago this day can be regenerated and dispel the current gloom,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, which was part of a loose coalition of more than 25 organizations convening the event. The groups, including the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements, as well as Americans for Peace Now, the National Council of Jewish Women and the New Israel Fund, said they represent the vast majority of the organized American Jewish community. Prior to the rally, President Clinton met with leaders of the various organizations to express his steadfast commitment to moving the peace process forward. His appearance at the White House meeting, which was originally billed as a briefing with senior administration officials, caught everyone by surprise. Clinton spoke at length about the peace process, noting that some progress had been made in the last week, during U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross’ visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but that obstacles still remained. The Jewish leaders, in turn, urged him to intensify peacemaking efforts and said the overwhelming majority of American Jews support the Oslo accords and continued U.S. involvement in the peace process. That message came out at the rally as well. “For the United States to withdraw from the peace process is unthinkable and would lead to chaos,” said Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Indyk, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, suggested that U.S. efforts to break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians were close to bearing fruit. He emphasized that the “clock is ticking” as May of next year approaches, when the interim agreement expires. Despite speeches which stressed the need for staying the course of the Oslo process, criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s peace policies was implied, but not overt. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, did not attend the rally, citing scheduling conflicts, although the embassy did sent a representative. After hearing excerpts of Yitzhak Rabin’s address at the White House signing ceremony in 1993, Leah Rabin took the podium and with glistening eyes, looked over the crowd gathered in what were familiar surroundings. She and her late husband had frequently attended the synagogue while Rabin served as ambassador to Washington, and had seen their son become a Bar Mitzvah there. Recalling Rabin’s assassination, she said, “There is a price to pay for peace and he became the price we all had to pay,” but added, “When we buried Yitzhak we did not bury the hope.” Steve Spector of Falls Church, Va., left the rally reflecting on h ow the “hope and euphoria” of five years ago had given way to frustration and the realization that “we have to think in more practical terms. “We need to make things happen. We can’t just hope and wait for it to happen.”

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