Holiday parties marred by Mideast debate

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (JTA) — The conflict in the Middle East is getting in the way — even at a recent holiday party sponsored by a pro-peace group.

Last week, two top figures on opposite sides of the Middle East conflict found themselves — at a holiday party sponsored by a Washington-based think tank — in a heated conversation about the latest round of Israeli- Palestinian peace talks.

Just a jog down Pennsylvania Avenue from where Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and President Clinton had earlier engaged in negotiations, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, David Ivry, struck up a conversation with the former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, Edward Abington, who left the foreign service and became a lobbyist for the Palestinians. Soon the two were exchanging their differing viewpoints.

The party’s host, the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, fosters dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. At least the dialogue lasted for a few moments.

Ivry complained about Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s policies. Abington responded by saying that “Israeli truths” were not reality and that Israel does not understand what it means to be an occupied people like the Palestinians.

Abington maintained he had 30 years of experience dealing with the issue, but Ivry countered that he had 60.

After disagreeing on a number of points, an agitated Abington excused himself from the conversation.

Across town, talk turned to domestic Israeli politics at the party of media gurus Steve Rabinowitz and Matthew Dorf.

Amid hundreds of frying latkes, animated discussions began about Israeli elections.

Assembled journalists, diplomats and Jewish community figures talked about Shimon Peres’ recent short- lived bid for prime minister, and reminisced about watching the returns from the Benjamin Netanyahu-Peres election in 1996.

“Washington is such a crazy town that you can’t go to a party without debating politics in both” the United States and overseas, Dorf said.

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