African Jews doubt Arafat’s rhetoric

JOHANNESBURG, May 6 (JTA) — Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat spoke warmly of his commitment to peace in an address last week to the Non-Aligned Movement, but the chairman of the South African Zionist Federation is highly skeptical.

Addressing the Committee on Palestine of the Non-Aligned Movement, which met in Pretoria, Arafat said the “Palestinian people have decided not to walk away from the peace process under any circumstances.”

Committee members include Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Senegal, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Non-Aligned Movement came into being during the Cold War as a forum of developing countries navigating between the American and Soviet spheres of influence. Israel has been concerned about the NAM — which is overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Palestinians and critical of Israel — because its members comprise a huge bloc of votes at the United Nations.

Arafat also said he had accepted a recent Egyptian-Jordanian proposal for halting the violence — without mentioning that Palestinian officials had helped draft the proposal.

Federation chair Kenny Katz accused Arafat of duplicity, saying that Arafat’s words and actions were sharply divergent.

“He may talk peace, but his actions and behavior don’t suggest peace,” Katz said.

Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Tova Herzl, offered a similar assessment.

“It should be noted that it is not his statements, but his actions and results that ultimately count,” she said of Arafat.

Addressing the NAM conference, South African President Thabo Mbeki called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table.

Describing the situation in the Middle East as “very grave,” Mbeki also said the NAM remains committed to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Katz said he was disappointed that Mbeki had not met with the nation’s Jewish leadership to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian violence.

“The shame of the situation is that Mbeki is too busy to meet with us. We have asked numerous times to meet with him. We could have added some perspective to the situation,” Katz said.

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