UJA Conference Breaks a Taboo by Inviting Senior PLO Official
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UJA Conference Breaks a Taboo by Inviting Senior PLO Official

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In a sign of mounting support among American Jews for the accord Israel recently signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization, a senior PLO official was invited to address a United Jewish Appeal conference here this week.

Nabil Sha’ath, a senior adviser to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, appeared on a panel of Middle East experts Tuesday during the UJA Women’s Division’s Lion of Judah conference here.

It was believed to be the first time a PLO official addressed a major Jewish gathering.

The late addition of Sha’ath to the panel discussion was overshadowed only by an address Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan gave Monday to the 1,100 delegates attending the Lion of Judah conference.

While many Jewish groups have enthusiastically embraced the historic accord signed by Israel and the PLO on the White House lawn last month, few have been emboldened to meet publicly with PLO officials.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has recommended that its 50 constituent agencies not take part in such meetings at this time.

It was therefore considered surprising that an organization with as cautious and stodgy a reputation as UJA’s should be the one to break new ground.

The animated Sha’ath did not use the congenial surroundings of his UJA appearance, however, to shy away from controversy, as he addressed head-on the question of Jerusalem.

Palestinians will continue to press the Israeli government for a piece of Jerusalem, he said in a remark that drew moans and even shouts from the audience.

He added: “Israel cannot deny the Palestinian people the importance of their Jerusalem.”


The accord signed at the White House last month requires negotiations on the status of Jerusalem to begin by December 1996. But Israel has made clear that Jerusalem is indivisible and will remain its capital forever.

In another controversial remark, Sha’ath said the formation of a separate Palestinian state is unavoidable.

After Israeli forces leave the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, “Palestinians should not be told what to do with the land,” he said.

Sha’ath said that Palestinians should be free to do what they want with the land, including forming their own state, as long as they live in peace and as good neighbors with Israel.

But the majority of Sha’ath’s remarks during the panel discussion were well-received by the attentive crowd.

“We have not had enough of Israel, only of Israel as occupiers,” said Sha’ath, speaking for Palestinians living in the region.

He went on to emphasize that Israelis and Palestinians must cooperate in economic matters, including trade and tourism.

Sha’ath also praised the U.S. role in the accord’s success, noting that President Clinton stepped back from the peace process to allow the agreement to be formed and then “swung around after the signing to give it his full support.”

Others participating in the panel discussion were Haim Shaked, director of Middle East studies at the University of Miami; Steven Spiegel, professor of political science at UCLA; and Marshall Breger, an official in the Reagan White House.

Afterward, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Itamar Rabinovich, outlined Israeli goals in the Middle East peace process.

First, he said, Israeli officials desire the successful implementation of the accord. Second, the process of acceptance must be expanded, including an end to the Arab economic boycott and recognition of Israel by Arab countries. Third, the Israeli public must be given confidence that the agreement will succeed.

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