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Israelis, Arabs at Belgian Forum Agree on Need for Peace Conference

March 22, 1988
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A three-day dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians ended here Sunday with the participants in general agreement over the need for an international conference to facilitate peace negotiations in the Middle East. The role of the Palestine Liberation Organization, however, remained problematic.

The dialogue on the theme “Give Peace a Chance” was organized by David Susskind, honorary president of the Jewish Secular Community Center here. Held in the building that houses European Community headquarters, the forum drew about 20 Israelis and Palestinians, all considered moderates and, as Susskind pointed out, “willing to speak to each other without any prejudice.”

The most prominent of the Israelis was Abba Eban, a Labor Party member of the Knesset and chairman of its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The best known of the Palestinians was Hanna Siniora, editor of the East Jerusalem Arabic daily Al-Fajr, who is close to the PLO.

Eban, who was in the United States unofficially last week while Premier Yitzhak Shamir was meeting with Reagan administration officials, argued forcefully for an international conference, which Shamir vigorously opposes.


But contrary to several other Israelis who called on Israel to negotiate with the PLO, Eban noted that Yasir Arafat’s organization has a serious credibility problem.

He recalled that on March 7, while Israel was debating the new American peace plan, PLO terrorists hijacked a bus in the Negev, resulting in the death of one Israeli and the wounding of 10.

Nevertheless, Eban said he discerned an evolution in the PLO’s position and suggested that Israel rescind its law barring contacts between Israelis and PLO officials.

Siniora claimed the PLO represents 5 million Palestinians in the Israeli-administered territories and abroad. “I am certainly willing to speak about the security needs of Israel, but the Israelis have to speak about a national identity for the Palestinians,” he said.

According to Siniora, both sides must pay a price for peace. The Israelis must withdraw from the territories and the Palestinians must accept the existence of the Israeli state, he said.

He proposed an international conference that would include the PLO, mutual recognition, a Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel and a moratorium on violence to be declared by both parties on the day the international conference begins.

Susskind stressed that the participants came here in their personal capacities, not as representatives of Israel or the PLO. It was assumed, however, that the Palestinians had prior approval from the PLO to take part in the dialogue.

The meeting divided the Belgian Jewish community. Many Jews who support Shamir’s opposition to an international conference called the dialogue meaningless, because, they argued, peace can be achieved only by direct negotiations between Israeli and Arab leaders.

About 40 Jewish youths demonstrated briefly outside the meeting hall Saturday. They carried placards reading “Give peace a real chance. Let Israel say no to terror.”

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