Shamir stresses unity to Jewish critics here

November 22, 1991|By Mark Matthews

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir appealed for unity yesterday from American Jewish leaders, many of whose views on the Middle East peace process clash with his.

Otherwise, he argued, Israel will be perceived as isolated as it heads into difficult negotiations with the Arabs.

"I have always believed in Jewish unity. We are a small people. Divided, we are a fragile reed. United, we are a powerful, spiritual and moral force that is unbeatable," he said. "And only if our neighbors know that we are not isolated will they feel that they must make a lasting peace with us."

His appeal, to about 3,000 leaders of the Council of Jewish Federations at the Baltimore Convention Center, was echoed by past CJF President Max Fisher, who exhorted them to show they supported Mr. Shamir "all the way."

The crowd's response -- prolonged applause, standing ovations and occasional shouts -- belied deep misgivings among many CJF leaders toward the Shamir government's policies. In a recent survey, a majority supported both territorial compromise and eventual acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian state.

But those misgivings evidently were on Mr. Shamir's mind as he looked ahead to resumption of bilateral talks with Palestinians, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. A site for the talks could be announced today after he meets with President Bush in Washington.

Drawing on history, Mr. Shamir pointedly addressed the key differences with his generally more dovish American listeners and expressed the hope that Arabs would resume talks "with a desire to make peace, not only to win concessions."

"We are often lectured by governments that would not themselves dream of relinquishing land acquired in war. Yet they tell us we should give up crucial areas gained in a defensive war, areas from which wars of annihilation were launched against us."

Using the coming Hanukkah holiday as a reference, he fiercely quoted Simon Maccabeus on the Jews' struggle to drive out Syrian Greeks 2,100 years ago: "The land to which we have returned is the land of our forefathers, and no others have a part in it."

Israelis live "in an unstable, undemocratic, militaristic region, where force is king, terrorism is endemic, and hatred of Israel universal. To preserve our tiny nation in this region, we must have security," he shouted to applause.

Mr. Shamir omitted the subsequent sentence, which had appeared in his prepared text and which equated security with territory: "And without the territorial component, no such security is possible." If the omission was intentional, it could signal some flexibility on territory, though not over what he had called "crucial" areas.

But he was uncompromising, as in the past, refusing even to consider an eventual Palestinian state.

"Another partition of that part of Palestine that is west of the River Jordan will not solve any problem, but again set two communities -- Jew and Arab -- against each other in a situation of constant friction."

The group's loudest ovation came when Mr. Shamir spoke of Jerusalem as the creation and symbol of the Jewish people, a view the most dovish U.S. Jews support.

Mr. Shamir drew only slight applause when he praised President Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III for putting the peace process together.

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