Representatives Of Jewish Groups Meet With Arafat
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A delegation of American Jews, rejecting moves in Israel and the United States to limit contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization, met with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in Tunis and found that he was eager to talk with them.
″A plane was waiting for him as he was talking to us,″ said Hilda Silverman of Philadelphia, who represented the New Jewish Agenda in a week of meetings with PLO officials that began May 30. ″There were loads of people waiting outside the office, but he still spent about two hours with us.″
The discussions occurred against the backdrop of a move in Congress to shut down the PLO office in the United States and an Israeli anti-terrorism law that makes it a crime for Israelis to meet with the PLO. Four Israelis who met with PLO members in Romania last year currently are on trial in Israel.
Delegation member Dr. Jerome Segal of the Washington Area Jews for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace criticized both attempts at curtailing meetings with the PLO.
″There’s a very deep, symbolic issue here,″ Segal said at a news conference Friday. ″It goes beyond the question of dialogue. There’s a history of denial of their existence,″ and refusals to talk to them or even to allow them to have an office where they could be visible simply aggravates the situation.
Segal said his group and some other Jews are bucking the trend.
″Just yesterday, another group of Israelis, knowing they face the possibility of imprisonment, went to Hungary to meet with the PLO,″ Segal said.
Arafat and other PLO officials welcome such contacts, Segal and other members of the delegation said.
″Everybody spoke so warmly about their meetings with Israeli Jews,″ Ms. Silverman said. ″They talked with delight about the upcoming meeting in Budapest.″
Despite the warmth of the reception for the delegation - which also included Mary Appelman of the America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace - the three indicated that the PLO has not abandoned its cause or its willingness to resort to violence if that is deemed necessary.
Ms. Silverman said she felt the PLO position was summed up best by Imad Shakour, Arafat’s personal adviser on Israeli affairs, who said, ″As long as Israel occupies (the West Bank and Gaza Strip), we’ll step up resistance. We’re all radical if nobody listens. We’re moderate if we achieve something.″
The delegation’s aim for the visit was to get a better understanding of the PLO and to give the PLO a better understanding of the concerns and fears of Jews in America and elsewhere.
During the meeting with Arafat, which occurred almost immediately after the delegation arrived, Ms. Silverman said she ″spoke mostly ... on Jewish fears.″
″I’ve heard that in past meetings, he hasn’t wanted to listen to that. But he couldn’t have been more responsive...,″ she said. ″When I spoke to him of the visit of (Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat to Jerusalem and told him that was the high point of the lives of many Jews in Israel as well as the United States, I had expected him to dismiss it, but he was nodding and smiling.″
The delegation also met with Bassam Abu Sharif, a top official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical group that recently reunited with other Palestinian organizations under the PLO umbrella.
That meeting was cordial, but Sharif was less understanding of Jewish concerns, said Ms. Silverman, who added, ″I sensed more personal anger in him than I found in Arafat.″
The group did not discuss details that might come up in negotiations, but Segal said PLO representatives clearly indicated that armed conflict with Israel would end if negotiations resulted in an independent Palestinian state.
″They feel they’ve gone so far already,″ Ms. Silverman said. ″They need to hear more from the United States and Israel before they can say more.″