In Baltimore yesterday and across the country, Jewish leaders pledged their support to the embattled state of Israel and urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to halt the violent demonstrations waged by his people for two weeks.
Although they blamed Arafat for the violence, the leaders also called on him to return to the negotiating table to resolve the 51-year-old conflict between his people and Israel.
"It was just seven years ago that Israel and the Palestinians embarked upon the path of peacemaking. Today we must ask Chairman Arafat the question: Has it all been for naught?" Morton B. Plant, chairman of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said at a news conference yesterday.
Plant and other local Jewish leaders expressed their solidarity with the people of Israel and sorrow for the loss of lives on both sides of the conflict.
"We yearn for the peace that will end for both peoples this cycle of needless pain," said Plant.
Rallies in 32 cities
Rallies in support of Israel are planned for tomorrow outside the Israeli consulate in New York and Friday noon in Lafayette Park across from the White House.
Smaller rallies are expected to be held in 30 other cities across the country tomorrow and Friday.
In public statements and newspaper advertisements in recent days, leading American Jewish groups have urged President Clinton to continue his efforts to broker a cease-fire in the conflict that has claimed the lives of at least 90 people, the majority Palestinian.
The confrontations between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers have spread from the disputed Old City of Jerusalem and Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to other cities in Israel.
Minds of their own
Arab-American groups have rallied in support of Palestinians, many of whom feel they have not shared in the benefits of peace.
"Violence does not happen in a vacuum," said Khalil Kahshan, a spokesman for the Washington-based Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee.
"It's not that Yasser Arafat is standing there with a remote control and with the push of a button these mobs are unleashed in the street. There are 8 million Palestinians who have their own minds."
The violence, which began Sept. 28, might yet bury the stalled peace process, a series of interim agreements that began with the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
In July, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a number of proposals to the Palestinians that many believed would lead to a final agreement. But Arafat rejected them.
"There is a real sadness that it has become so frayed when it looked like it was so close," said Gail Hyman, a vice president at the United Jewish Communities, which represents 189 local Jewish groups including Baltimore's Associated. "It's everybody's fervent wish that we could finally get an agreement."