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Palestinian and Israeli Activists Scoff at Latest U.S. Peace Ideas

March 14, 1989
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Both Israelis and Palestinians participating in the three-day “Road to Peace” conference at Columbia University scoffed Monday at what they see as the Bush administration’s “double standard” in urging a moratorium on violence in the Israeli-administered territories.

Representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Peace Now called the Bush administration’s plans to ask Israel and the PLO to take specific steps to defuse tensions in the administered territories demeaning and unfair to the Palestinians.

They were responding to reports that the Bush administration plans to ask the PLO to halt the violent demonstrations and distribution of anti-Israel literature in the territories. In turn, the United States will ask Israel to release some of the Palestinians detained in Israeli prison camps and to reopen schools in the territories.

The plan was leaked to the news media over the weekend, prior to Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens’ discussions Monday with President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker.

Nabil Shaath, chairman of the Palestine National Council’s political committee, said the American requests set a “double standard” that allows Israel to continue repression and unfairly burdens the Palestinians by preventing them from responding to this repression.


Israeli Peace Now activist Tzaly Reshef called the U.S. tension-reducing recommendations “insulting to the Palestinians.”

But he warned that Israel would never accept any peace plan that grants Palestinians in the territories the right to return to lands inside pre-1967 Israel.

“The right of return of Palestinians to Jaffa and Haifa is totally unacceptable to us,” he said.

Knesset member Yossi Sarid of Israel’s dovish Citizens Rights Movement was equally firm in that regard. “No Israeli — nobody — is going to accept the right of return. No Shamir and no Sarid,” he said, referring to Israel’s hawkish prime minister.

But Sarid endorsed and called for the expansion of the U.S.-PLO dialogue. He also urged the holding of elections in the territories under “international supervision.”

The highlight of Monday morning’s session was expected to be the appearance of Faisal al-Husseini, director of the Arab Studies Center in Jerusalem, who has spent most of the past year in an Israeli prison for his political activities.

But Husseini, in the end, is soft-spoken and less than fluent in English. He was the only member of a panel of PLO members, prominent Palestinian scholars and left-wing Israelis to rely totally on a written text.

In quiet but determined words, Husseini’s rejection of the proposed American truce in the territories was unmitigated.

“The intifada did not take place because we wanted schools to reopen or prisoners to be released,” he said. “It took place because we wanted our 21 years of occupation to be over.”


Rather than insist on an end to the unrest, “the American government must upgrade its dialogue with the PLO and take every step to end the (Israeli) occupation.”

For this, “America must stop sending tear gas” and other forms of aid to Israel that will prove lethal to the Palestinians, Husseini said.

Afif Safieh, director of the PLO mission to the Netherlands and one-time political science instructor at Harvard, was at times flippant and at times serious.

Among Palestinians, he said, there are two schools of thought about Israel, the kinder of them being that “Israel is a democracy — for the Jews.”

Noting that Palestinians have frequently been called the “Jews of the Middle East” because they have no home, he said, “We never dreamt of making the Israelis the Palestinians of the Middle East. We are against genocide.”

Endorsing the idea of peaceful coexistence, Safich said that “for us, the two-state solution is an acceptable solution that can be made durable.”

Are the words being spoken in New York at this conference being discussed in the halls of the Knesset?

Hanna Siniora, editor of Al-Fajr, the Palestinian newspaper that co-sponsored the conference, said he believes “it is being heard every day in Jerusalem.”

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