The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) expresses its support for the Israeli government and its solidarity with the Israeli people during this difficult period, which has seen widespread violence in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and parts of northern Israel. Whether the victims of this tragic situation were Arabs or Jews, we are deeply pained by this loss of life and send our condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.
We believe responsibility for the violence falls squarely on the shoulders of Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA). We deplore the rioting, the shootings by Fatah street gangs (Tanzim), the brutal lynching of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, and the destruction of Jewish holy places in Nablus and Jericho. Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist leaders released from PA prisons should be rearrested. Instead of seeking to control the situation, the Palestinian police have stood by passively and in some cases even contributed to the mayhem. Regrettably, all of these represent gross violations of past agreements signed by Chairman Arafat, particularly the Oslo Accords, which the JCPA has consistently supported.
We support Prime Minister Barak’s efforts and those of the Israeli Defense Forces to protect the security of all Israeli citizens. We totally reject one-sided United Nations resolutions that condemn Israel for employing “excessive force.” The reality is that Israeli soldiers and policemen, who are under strict orders to use live ammunition only when their lives are in danger, have responded with great restraint. While newspaper editorials have generally reflected an understanding of the crisis, we are concerned that many journalists, particularly in the broadcast media, have distorted reality and failed to provide necessary context and perspective. Too often, the life-threatening dangers confronted by Israeli soldiers and policemen are underplayed or ignored altogether.
Last July at Camp David, Prime Minister Barak was prepared to consider far-reaching ideas involving territorial compromise in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, creative solutions on Jerusalem and a formula for addressing the Palestinian refugee issue. He did so in the interest of achieving a permanent status agreement that finally would put an end to this terrible conflict. Chairman Arafat decided not to grasp the outstretched Israeli hand for peace, believing perhaps that he would gain political advantage through violence. He was wrong. His irresponsible actions of recent weeks have set back prospects for advancing negotiations and caused many in Israel and the American Jewish community to lose confidence in him as a peace partner.
As Prime Minister Barak has stated on many occasions, Israel will persevere in its effort to live in peaceful co-existence with its Palestinian neighbors. When the Palestinian people have leaders who demonstrate a genuine desire for reconciliation, we know that Israel will again be ready to make concessions for the sake of peace. We urge Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and other moderate states in the Middle East to encourage the Palestinians to move in this direction. Arab summit statements critical of Israel and the severing of relations with Israel by Morocco, Tunisia, and Oman only undermine chances for returning to a constructive political process.
True peace requires more than signed agreements. Arab governments that want to move the region from conflict to stability and prosperity must intensify their efforts to counter anti-Semitism, educate their societies for peace and promote normal relations with the people of Israel.
We are outraged at the kidnapping by Hezbollah of three Israeli soldiers in clear violation of international law and the UN-endorsed agreement in regard to Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon. We call on the United States, the international community, human rights groups and people of goodwill everywhere to act vigorously in support of their immediate release.
The United States government and people have stood with Israel during this time of crisis. This unique alliance is based on common democratic and moral values, as well as shared strategic interests. We appreciate the overwhelming support demonstrated by Congress in adopting measures that strengthen Israel and prospects for genuine peace in the region. While supporting humanitarian and democracy-building assistance to the Palestinians through programs run by responsible non-governmental organizations, we oppose any aid to the PA if Chairman Arafat unilaterally declares an independent Palestinian state. President Bill Clinton, Secretary Madeleine Albright and other senior administration officials have been devoted and tireless supporters of Israel as they have sought to bring an end to the violence and create a basis for returning to the negotiating process. We trust that the next President and Congress will view Israel’s security and the achievement of peace in the Middle East as matters of high American national interest.