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Dispute over Symposium on the Palestinian Issue

August 22, 1979
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Heated discussions are taking place in Labor Party and National Religious Party leadership circles about whether their Knesset members should participate in a three-day symposium in Washington beginning Oct. 27 on the Palestinian issue as it affects Israel’s security.

The symposium, “The Middle East Between War and Peace,” is sponsored by the Tel Aviv-based magazine “New Outlook” which describes itself as “dedicated to the search for peace in the Middle East and to cooperation and development of all the area’s peoples.” The upcoming symposium is one of several the Socialist-Zionist non-party publication has held since it was founded 22 years ago.

The magazine’s editorial committee here stressed that those invited to participate include scientists, scholars, researchers, journalists and some political figures from Israel, Europe and the United States, as well as Palestinians. The editorial committee said that no Palestine Liberation Organization representatives have been invited and affirmed that the magazine supports the view that there is room for negotiations with any “factor” that recognizes Israel and is ready to accept peaceful co-existence with the Jewish State.

(A spokesman for the New Outlook office in New York, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that the sponsors of the symposium “want to hold a discussion and dialogue open to all voices and views on the problem of Palestinian self-determination vis-a-vis Israel’s security. We want this to be done on an academic level in order to open up minds to new approaches in dealing with this problem which is, fundamentally, an issue of vital importance to Israel’s security.” The spokesman said that the conference will make no political statements or declarations.)


The editorial committee said that among the Palestinians invited so far are the mayors of Nablus, Hebron, Holhoul and Bethlehem and a number of professors at the American University in Beirut who maintain contact with PLO leaders. Knesset members invited to attend are Labor Party’s Abba Eban, Yossi Sarid, Micha Harish, Rabbi Menachem Hacohen, Ora Namir and Uzi Baram; Mapam’s Naftali Feder and Chaika Grossman; NRP’s Avraham Melamed and David Glass, Shali’s Mordechai Virshubski and Shmuel Taledano; Sheli’s Uri Avneri and Meir Payil; and Shulamit Aloni of the Civil Rights Party. Dr. Nahum Goldmann has also been invited.

But even as the invitations were received, Sarid said he would only go as a political personality, not as a representative of the Labor Party, and only after examining the list of participants and the conference agenda to make sure the meeting does not become an anti-Israel event. Melamed said he could not attend due to “technical reasons” and Glass said he would only if the NRP approved the trip. Mapam said it would send its Knesset members only if the Palestinians attending the symposium recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Sheli is the only party that has already announced that its representatives will attend the conference with no preconditions. According to a party statement, Sheli is not concerned over Palestinian participation and, in fact, even welcomes it as a step toward strengthening the PLO’s “moderate wing.”


The most heated discussion on the issue of participation has taken place in the Labor Party. Its Bureau, the highest decision-making body of the party, has gone on record opposing the participation of their Knesseters in the symposium but did not officially forbid their participation.

In a lively meeting of the party’s Bureau last Sunday, there were some officials who urged their Knesset members to refrain from participating altogether in the symposium. It was also asserted that the party opposes participating in any forum in which PLO officials are present but that the party is not against meetings with Palestinians who are not PLO members or profess PLO views.

Prof. Allen Pollack, chairman of the Labor Zionist Alliance in the United States and a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, who participated in the Labor Party Bureau’s meeting, said he was totally opposed to the symposium and called upon the Labor Party to instruct all its members who were invited to refrain from attending.

Pollack, a supporter of the Peace Now movement, said the symposium was ill-timed and that American Jewish leaders also opposed the meeting. He felt that the conference would take place at a time when Washington would be in the midst of a concerted effort to talk with the PLO and when the United Nations General Assembly would be debating the issue of Palestinian rights. In addition, he said that regardless of who else is participating in the symposium, the limelight would be on the Palestinians and the end result would be a one-sided impression.

In a similar vein, Interior Minister Yosef Burg, head of the Israeli delegation to the autonomy talks and leader of the NRP, termed the conference at weakening Israel when it is embroiled in the struggle to prevent amendments in Security Council Resolution 242.”

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