Mitchell Holds out Peace Hopes While Thousands Rally for Israel

Just hours after thousands rallied in support for Israel here, the author of the Mitchell Plan touted Israeli-Palestinian peace before a group that still holds out hope for the idea.

Mitchell, who authored the plan that U.S. policy-makers are promoting as the way out of the current crisis, told the more than 900 IPF supporters on Sunday that he hoped U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to the region this week would enable the parties to break the “cycle of violence” and resume negotiations.

The tone at the dinner was very different from the one at the rally outside the United Nations, where Jews from around the area expressed support for Israel’s current military operation to root out terrorism

Mitchell said America has guaranteed the “legitimate existence of Israel” as a “sovereign state behind defensible borders.”

But that will be a result of a political end, not a military one, he said.

Israel must take steps to rebuild confidence in that process, such as “freezing all settlement activity,” he said, to a wide response of applause and a couple of faint boos.

“I will tell you I don’t always get applause when I make that statement,” Mitchell said.

For his part, Sneh, a Labor Party member who is part of the Sharon government, spoke of his conviction for peace:

“We were not mistaken,” he said, referring to the 1993 Oslo agreement that “opened the door to the most dynamic prospect for peace.”

But speaking more harshly than any other about the Palestinians, he assigned the “complete breakdown” of the Oslo process to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Sneh urged the audience to support Israel’s current military operation, which he said has brought the arrest or killing of the top planners of some of the most recent terrorist attacks, including the Passover eve suicide bombing at a hotel in Netanya, whose death toll has risen to 27.

Getting rid of these terrorists will “create the necessary environment for negotiating more quickly,” he said.

Some of the guests made dual appearances on Sunday, sending slightly different messages to the different crowds.

Schumer told the policy forum crowd that the only answer to the conflict is a “land-for-peace” solution and that right wingers offer no alternative.

But his tone was different for the thousands gathered across from the United Nations at the rally earlier in the day.

“No nation has been asked to do what the world asks of Israel. When evil people strap themselves with explosives packed with nails, ball bearings and anti-coagulants so the victim will bleed to death, no nation is not asked to defend itself, and Israel shouldn’t be asked anything different,” Schumer said.

“Israel’s fight is America’s fight, and America’s fight is the world’s fight,” said Schumer. “We must fight terrorism everywhere, in Afghanistan, Iraq and against Yasser Arafat, the PLO and Fatah.”

“They are all criminals. Today, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aksa Brigades strap themselves with explosives on a street in Tel Aviv. Tomorrow it could be New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.”

The rally, organized by Rabbi Avi Weiss and his Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA, and chaired by an interdenominational group of rabbis, assembled only five days after an announcement began to spread by word-of-mouth.

Crowd estimates ranged from 5,000 to 12,000.

The time is critical, Weiss said, for U.S. Jews to stand united with Israelis.

The gathering drew a diverse crowd: Young men with earrings walked alongside others with sidelocks and long black coats; multigenerational families walked together.

Handmade placards ranged from angry and ironic — “Arafat: Don t Keep Your 72 Virgins Waiting” — to the poignant. One sign bore the words of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir: “There Will Be Peace When the Arabs Love Their Children More Than They Hate the Jews.”

Some said the demonstrations in other parts of the world protesting the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as the recent rise in acts of anti-Semitism in countries such as France, prompted them to turn out at the rally in support of Israel.

“I think people saw anti-Israel rallies all over the world and woke up, said Gil Margulis, 32, a New Jersey entrepreneur.

“We are here today making a pure statement from the heart to Israeli Jews that we support you, we are behind you, we are with you.”

Other participants echoed the general sentiment of wanting to show support for the Israeli people and government in doing what they feel they must to defend themselves against terrorism.

Judy Schneck, 49, a teacher from Livingston, N.J., carrying a sign that said “We Want Peace,” explained that she supports Sharon’s policies because at this point she believes there is no immediate alternative to protect Israeli lives.

“If the terrorists among the Palestinians would stop killing Jews, we could talk, but they refuse to stop killing Jews, so they haven’t given us any other options,” she said.

“We’re here today to show Israelis American Jewry supports them in doing what they need to do.”

Meanwhile, last week more than 2,500 people gathered in Los Angeles on two-days notice for a similar rally.

Standwithus.com, a recently formed pro-Israel grassroots organization, contacted Jewish organizations and synagogues, who in turn, alerted their e-mail lists.

Iranian and Israeli community organizations co-sponsored the event.

Rabbi Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple said he came “to be with my people and to express my outrage at what is being done to the people of Israel.”

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