Arafat Gets US Assurances Clinton
Says He'll Push for Israeli Withdrawals
WASHINGTON - President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright promised Yasser Arafat yesterday that they would push Israel to withdraw quickly from more West Bank territory, but they demanded that the Palestinian leader quash terrorist groups and tone down anti-Semitic rhetoric in official publications.
Conceding that the Middle East peace process is moving slowly, Clinton's aides announced that Albright will need to meet with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the next few weeks in Europe.
For days, the administration had sought to downplay this week's separate meetings with Arafat and Netanyahu. Noting that both sides still disagree about land returns, security arrangements, and the final status of Jerusalem, the State Department spokesman, James P. Rubin, said yesterday, "We do not believe that there has been agreement on these various difficult issues."
Arafat wound up a day of meetings in the White House and the State Department saying he was pleased with the Americans' attitude and was "not asking for the moon" as he sought West Bank handovers.
Arafat's canceled tour of the Holocaust Museum is a tale of slights and slip-ups.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Clinton wants Israel to pull out from at least 10 percent of the West Bank in the next stage. That jibes with administration reports that Clinton is seeking a "double-digit" amount. Israel has turned over 37 percent of the West Bank, and a peace accord signed with the Palestinians in 1993 does not specify how much more is to be handed over.
Erekat said Clinton assured his Palestinian guests, "I want a credible and significant redeployment. I want two digits."
Clinton's morning meeting in the Oval Office with Arafat lasted just over an hour, like the meeting with Netanyahu. "As long as there is a pressure and efforts by President Clinton, I'm fully confident that the peace process will be protected," said Arafat.
By the accounts of US officials, this time Clinton and others upbraided Arafat politely but firmly several times during the day for not doing enough to stop terrorism. Spokesman Mike McCurry said, "The president gave the chairman things to think about."
Ironically, just as Clinton is again getting personally involved in the peace talks, some scholars say he appears to be distracted by the controversy over an alleged affair with a former White House intern.
"What is left of the peace process is shredding, there is a major crisis with Iraq that must be resolved, and what's the center of attention here?" said Judith S. Yaphe, visiting fellow at the National Defense University. "When you have to spend all your time doing damage control worrying about this latest revelation, I think it makes it very difficult to concentrate on these ... issues."
Netanyahu, who flew back to Israel Wednesday night, was unrepentant about openly courting the Rev. Jerry Falwell, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and other Clinton foes, who say Israel should defy demands to hand over land to Arabs. In his last speech in Washington, Netanyahu offered a public message to Arafat: "You haven't done anything, and you ask us to give up additional territory to be bases for terrorism."
Netanyahu said all the West Bank towns that Israel turned over to the Palestinians have started producing TNT for bombs.
This story ran on page A02 of the Boston Globe on 01/23/98.
A Watershed in Israel
David Levy's resignation should not be regarded as one other minister quitting Netanyahu's right-wing coalition, but as the beginning of the end of an entire Israeli strategy. Much will depend on the Arab parties devising a counter strategy.
... Given the uncertainties surrounding the entire peace process, it is not surprising that radicalism is acquiring the upper hand throughout the region.
... The most dangerous manifestation of the growing radicalisation of the region is the upsurge of terrorism. In Algeria, it has claimed over 1,000 victims since the beginning of Ramadan alone. And, though the body count in the Luxor massacre was nowhere near as high, for Egypt it has set a new record of brutality. Faced with these developments, Washington cannot continue to turn a blind eye to Netanyahu's provocative behavior, without losing its credibility as an honest broker, not only in Arab eyes but in the eyes of the whole world.
Real Facts on the Ground
Whether or not Mr. Netanyahu likes it, the state of Palestine already exists, and Palestinian statehood is not even an issue in the "permanent status" negotiations which, according to the Declaration of Principles signed in September 1993, must reach an agreement not later than May 1999.
According to the Declaration of Principles, the issues to be covered during "permanent status" negotiations are "Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest." Palestinian statehood is not mentioned, but the reference to "borders" and "other neighbors" would make no sense except in the context of an agreement between states. Israel's eventual formal acceptance of Palestinian statehood is clearly implicit in the terms of the Declaration of Principles, but, as a matter of international law, Israel's prior acceptance is not an essential precondition for the state of Palestine to exist.
While extending diplomatic recognition to foreign states lies within the discretion of each sovereign state, there are four customary criteria for sovereign statehood: a defined territory over which sovereignty is not seriously contested by any other state; a permanent population, and willingness of the state to discharge international and treaty obligations; and effective control over the state's territory and population.
While Israel has never defined its ultimate borders, the state of Palestine has effectively done so. They encompass only that portion of historical Palestine occupied by Israel during the 1967 War. Sovereignty over expanded east Jerusalem is explicitly contested, even though, after three decades, none of the world's other 192 sovereign states has recognised Israel's claim to sovereignty. The sovereignty of the state of Palestine over the Gaza Strip and the rest of the West Bank, however, is uncontested.
Israel has never dared even to purport to annex these territories, presumably recognizing that doing so would raise awkward questions about the rights (or lack thereof) of those who live there. Jordan renounced all claims to the West Bank in favor of the Palestinians in July 1988. While Egypt administered the Gaza Strip for 19 years, it never asserted sovereignty over it. Since November 1988, when Palestinian independence and statehood were formally proclaimed, the only state asserting sovereignty over those portions of historical Palestine which Israel conquered in 1967 (aside from expanded east Jerusalem) has been the state of Palestine, recognized as such by 124 other states encompassing the vast majority of humanity.
... Palestinian statehood is not within Israel's power to grant or deny. The Palestinian state exists. Only once this most fundamental "fact on the ground" is absorbed by Israel -- and American -- public consciousness will it be possible for meaningful "permanent status" negotiation to begin and for both peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians to be achieved.
Oslo's Last Chance
There is a growing realisation on the part of the Fatah leadership especially that the period of Palestinian concessions in the hope of American action is over. "We understand that the longer the situation stays as it is the weaker and more unpopular the PA will become." admits Fatah's West Bank leader, Marwan Barghouti. "The people judge whether the PA or Fatah is weak or strong according to progress on the ground. If the further redeployments happen, this will strengthen Fatah. But the reverse is also true. This means that we must concentrate on the political and internal fronts at the same time. Internally, the priority is to maintain the national dialogue with Hamas and the other opposition parties.
Politically, we must continue our efforts in the international community and with the Israeli peace camp to pressure Netanyahu. We have to put him in a corner."
The problem is that Fatah and the PA have been trying to do just that for the past year and have gleaned neither redeployments nor a halt to settlement building. In this sense, Arafat may be right when he calls the Washington meetings the "last chance" for Oslo. But Barghouti is less convinced that "a renewed Intifada" would be the outcome should Washington again fail to deliver the goods. "I don't expect any future resistance would follow the Intifada model", he says. "It would rather be by guns."
The Challenge of Israel
We claim that we want statehood and independence, yet none of the most basic institutions of statehood are in anyone's mind. There is no basic law where the Palestinian Authority rules today, the result of one man's whim not to approve such a law, in flagrant defiance of the Legislative Assembly. Our universities are in an appalling state, starved for money, desperately run and administered, filled with professors who struggle to make a living but have not done a stroke of research or independent work in years. We also have a large and impressive group of extremely wealthy businesspersons who have simply not grasped that the essential thing for any people is a massive investment in education, the construction of a national library, and the endowment of the entire university structure as a guarantee that as a people we will have a future.
... It is no use blaming the failures of the current PLO on a few inadequate and corrupt individuals. The fact is that we now have the leadership we deserve, and until we realize that we are being driven further and further from our goal of self-determination and the recovery of our rights by that leadership which so many of us still serve and respect, we will continue to slide downwards.
... We need the support of the Arab intellectual and cultural community which has devoted too much time to slogans about Zionism and imperialism and not enough to helping us fight the battle against our own failures and incompetence. The challenge of Israel is the challenge of our own societies.
Commentary on Claimed Change
When President Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, said before the Netanyahu/Arafat visits to Washington that "this is the time for tough decisions", I assumed he had both parties in mind.
Unfortunately, comments coming out of the Clinton Administration before the trip gave reason to believe that this was not going to be the case.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's one-sided comment that "it is important for us to move forward on these further redeployments and to fulfill some of the obligations of the interim [Oslo] agreements that has to do with opening airports and safe passage," certainly did not jibe with "even-handedness".
The Washington visits clearly illustrates just what kind of "tough decisions" Clinton's team had in mind for Arafat: the decision to hand over yet another letter about the Palestinian Covenant and an agreement to a photo opportunity at Washington's Holocaust Museum.
The Clinton Administration's satisfaction with Arafat's handling of the Palestinian Covenant is a real puzzle:
Back on September 9, 1993, Arafat promised in a letter to Yitzhak Rabin that "the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid. Consequently, the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant."
But nothing happened.
When The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement On The West Bank And The Gaza Strip was signed in Washington on September 28, 1995, Arafat promised "The PLO undertakes that, within two months of the date of the inauguration of the Council, the Palestinian National Council will convene and formally approve the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant."
But nothing happened.
With elections in Israel approaching, the Palestinian National Council met and is reported to have decided "The Palestinian National Charter is hereby amended by canceling the articles that are contrary to the letters exchanged between the P.L.O and the Government of Israel 9-10 September 1993" and "Assigns its legal committee with the task of redrafting the Palestinian National Charter in order to present it to the first session of the Palestinian central council." The canceled articles were not specified.
A week later, on May 5, 1996, Gaza attorney Faisal Hamdi Husseini, the head of the Palestine National Council (PNC) Judicial Committee announced that he would submit a new Palestinian Covenant in three months in which 21 articles will be changed or canceled. Keep in mind the number 21, I will be returning to it shortly.
Three months passed and Husseini didn't do anything. But this didn't stop the Clinton Administration and Shimon Peres from asserting that Arafat had, in fact, honored this obligation.
Which brings us to the first of several "Catch-22" situations: If Clinton and Peres were correct in their claim that Arafat actually changed the Charter, why did Dennis Ross include in the January 15, 1997 Note for the Record that "The process of revising the Palestinian National Charter will be completed."
And they were supposed to act on this "immediately".
Last Thursday Faisal Hamdi Husseini told me "There has been a decision to change the covenant. The change has not yet been carried out." He noted that there were no technical problems holding up the process: "When one side advances matters, the second side will also advance."
There is only one way to change the Charter, and it's stated explicitly in the Charter itself: "Article 33: This Charter shall not be amended save by [vote of] a majority of two-thirds of the total membership of the National Congress of the Palestine Liberation Organization [taken] at a special session convened for that purpose."
But Arafat has no plans to convene the PNC to approve an explicitly amended Charter. Instead he produced yet another letter. This time addressed to President Clinton.
And in a masterstroke of ex-post engineering, this letter declared that when the PNC voted they thought they were dropping or changing a total of 28 articles - 7 more than Husseini, the man responsible for putting together a revised Charter, said he was going to deal with!
Instead of advising Arafat to finally get to work, State Dept. spokesman James Rubin said that the US considers the contents of the letter "an important step towards completing the process of revising the charter. As far as what additional steps need to be made, at this point all we want to say is that these need to be discussed directly between the parties."
Does it matter that the PNC hasn't really amended the Charter? Here is the paradox: Is it that the Clinton Administration doesn't want to press Arafat for a PNC vote because it doesn't think he can pull it off? If this is so then a crucial assumption at the very foundations of the Oslo process is false.
And if this underlying assumption is false, it would be folly for Israel to continue trading land for worthless paper.
The visits could have been a watershed event in which Clinton finally insisted on Palestinian compliance. Instead we are witness to continuation of his destructive "damn the violations full withdrawal ahead" policy.
Dr. Aaron Lerner,
PLO Runs "Police-State"
JERUSALEM (Reuters 20th January, 1998) - A leading Palestinian human rights group, accusing the Palestinian Authority of acting like a "police state," issued a scathing report Tuesday detailing widespread human rights abuses in Palestinian-ruled areas in 1997.
"The mechanisms of a police state are in place. The Authority is practicing these mechanisms as the average citizen looks on in horror," the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) said in its annual report, "The State of Human Rights in Palestine."
The report said torture and extra-judicial killings in Palestinian Authority custody were the most severe human rights violations in self-ruled areas.
"Seven Palestinians died in custody during 1997, compared to only four in 1996," said the report, distributed at a Jerusalem news conference by PHRMG director Bassem Eid.
"There were no investigations and the perpetrators were punished only in one case. The high number of deaths is connected to the official and long-standing tolerance of torture by the security services," the report said.
It stressed that in Palestinian-controlled areas, "more and more Palestinians are engaged in the important work of arresting, torturing, and occasionally killing each other, much as they did during 1996 and 1995."
The report said illegal arrests and arbitrary detentions were the norm rather than the exception in Palestinian Authority areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It said the judicial system, both military and civilian, was in danger of becoming entirely irrelevant for Palestinian citizens as hundreds of prisoners were denied their day in court ...
The report detailed systematic violations of freedoms of speech and the press and said journalists lived in fear of either arrest or torture for publishing articles critical of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's self-rule authority.
The Palestinian Authority has come under sharp criticism from local and international human rights groups for abuses it carried out in areas under its control since its establishment in 1993.
Human rights violations have intensified after crackdowns against alleged members of Muslim militant groups which have killed scores of Israelis in suicide attacks aimed at undermining Israel- Palestinian peace deals.
Palestinian officials said that human rights abuses were acts carried out by individuals in the security apparatus but were not police policy. "We are not angels but our human rights record has improved in recent months and continues to improve," insisted Ibrahim Abu Dagga, human rights adviser to Arafat.
The PHRMG dismissed such claims, stating that torture carried out by the Palestinian security forces was "frequent and routine".
"What is absolutely verifiable is that torture is taking place throughout the West Bank and Gaza with the knowledge and approval of our executive branch," the report stated.
"To talk of 'improvement' in such a context is a way of mocking the victims," it said ....
Injustice and Mockery
Today, 19th January, 1998, the Palestinian State Security Court met at the Military Court Headquarters in the Office of then Governor of Jericho to try Nasser Abu Arrous and Jasser Salaami'. Following a closed thirty-minute hearing, prior to which the defendants had not received notification of their charges nor were they permitted to appoint their own defense attorneys, the State Security Court handed down a sentence of 15 years hard labor. The charges, trial and imprisonment of the two defendants are a serious violation of human rights and are unlawful under the relevant legislation in the West Bank.
Nasser Abu Arrous, aged 23 years of Nablus, and Jasser Salaami', 25 years also of Nablus, were arrested four days ago by the Palestinian General Intelligence Service. Following an announcement by the Palestinian National Authority yesterday that the State Security Court would try the two for charges connected to the bombings in West Jerusalem on 13 July 1997 and 4 September 1997, LAW sent its attorneys to represent the Abu Arrous and Salaami' at trial.
At 10.00 hours local time the attorneys at LAW sought to enter the Governor's offices in order to represent the client, but were told by the court police that the court was not yet in session. After ninety minutes the lawyers were called into the building, in which it transpired the State Security Court had been in session. The Chair of the State Security Court, Colonel Marwan Fedar, immediately on the arrival of the defense lawyers, handed down a sentence of 15 years hard labor for Nasser Abu Arrous and Jasser Salaami'. The two had been charged with offences under the Revolutionary
Punishment Law of the Palestine Liberation Organization 1979. The charges related to the commission of terrorist acts, article 174, and damaging national unity, article 178.
These codes do not form part of Palestinian law and have no validityin the West Bank including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Consequently the accusations, charges, trial and sentence are all unlawful and thetwo defendants are facing 15 years imprisonment for non-existent offenses.
The trial of Abu Arrous and Salaami' was conducted, as with other trials of the State Security Court, in violation of basic principles of fair trial. The defendants were not permitted to prepare a defense, appoint their own defense attorneys, the trial was conducted in closed session and it is unclear what rules of procedure were employed.
The trial and sentence again demonstrate that the State Security Court is a serious violation of human rights. While the Court continues to exist it defies and destabilizes the basic foundations of justice: the rule of law, fair trial and the independence of the judiciary. Since its establishment in February 1995 the State Security Court has successively tried political opponents as an expedient means of incarceration.
LAW calls for the immediate abolition of the State Security Court, as it corrupts law and judicial procedures in the Palestinian areas of the Occupied Territories. It also calls for all decisions of the State Security Court to be reviewed by the Palestinian High Court.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu felt the brunt of White House pressure Tuesday, being treated to what might be described as "snub diplomacy." The Israeli leader was not accorded the usual diplomatic courtesies often given to a head of state, such as staying at Blair House or a special White House dinner. But following a tightly controlled meeting with President Clinton, Netanyahu endured several grueling hours of "tag team" negotiating with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, and others.
The Israeli prime minister apparently held his ground, demanding that the U.S. hold the Palestinian leadership more accountable in living up to past peace agreements.
When the pressure sessions finally broke up, Albright conceded to a friend, "I can't say a lot has happened here."
Sources tell CBN News that President Clinton is now trying to engineer a face-to-face meeting between Yasser Arafat and Netanyahu in Washington, hoping for a breakthrough.
Pat Robertson spoke at length with the Israeli Prime Minister immediately following last night's negotiations. Here is that in-depth interview.
Robertson: I hear you've had a grueling day -- eight hours of meeting the President, Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, and others -- how did it go?
Netanyahu: Not too bad.
Robertson: Really? What are they asking you?
Netanyahu: They're trying to cook up an arrangement to get over this interim settlement business, which is complicated.
Robertson: If they want a percentage of land in the double digits, are you going to give it to them?
Netanyahu: What we're trying to do is effectively find out whether the Palestinians will comply with their promises, and we can give a certain amount of land, not a hell of a lot, because there's not much there. We need minimal ramparts, minimal buttresses for Israel's security, and that I won't give up.
Robertson: What do the Palestinians want? What do you really think their goal is?
Netanyahu: That's the problem. We keep on telling them that they have to show us that they are annulling -- canceling -- the charter that they have that still calls for our destruction. That was promised to Israel four years ago when the Oslo Accords were signed. They have yet to deliver on this basic promise, so obviously, the question mark is always there: are they out to destroy Israel, if they won't amend the basic constitution that they have that calls for Israel's destruction? I think the first thing they should do is amend that charter.
Robertson: Have you ever heard Yasser Arafat make a speech in Arabic where he acknowledges the existence of Israel and is for its integrity?
Netanyahu: I can't say that I have, but I may have missed a particular instance. But you're quite right -- there's a difference in the way Palestinian leaders speak in English and the way they speak in Arabic, and they're seldom held accountable for it. I must say that we in Israel are held accountable for every word that we say. And we say the same thing to the Israeli public and to the American public: we want peace, we're prepared to move for peace, but it's got to be a peace that we can live with, a peace that we can defend. That's the only peace that has meaning -- peace with security.
Robertson: There was an article in today's paper by Natan Sharansky about the whole concept of Hebron. There were certain undertakings dealing with Hebron, and I understand the Palestinians haven't been keeping that, is that true?
Netanyahu: Yes, it is, unfortunately. We kept our side of the deal: we redeployed from Hebron itself, we released women prisoners who were terrorists. I didn't like it, but the previous government had committed to it, and I kept the promise. We decided on the redeployments -- all of these were exactly our commitments under the Hebron Accords. Unfortunately, the Palestinians failed to do all those things that they promised: they've failed to collect illegal weapons; they've failed to lock up the terrorist leaders and operatives; they've been releasing them. They've failed to stop the incitement for violence in their official media; they've failed to annul that charter that they promised to annul. So it's not a good record; I wish I could be sitting opposite you and telling you a different story. I wish I could say a year after Hebron, they kept their promises; that's essentially what they want for the next phase. People ask us, Why do you insist they keep their promises? And I say, How can you expect us to sign the next agreement if they fail to keep the previous agreement? That makes common sense for anyone who's signed any agreement.
Robertson: Is the Clinton administration going to hold them to those accords, or are they glossing them over?
Netanyahu: Well, I hope so, Pat, because the promises in the Hebron Accords were made to the Clinton administration. Each side promised the United States, which was a signatory to these accords, that it would fulfill its part. Well, we've fulfilled our part, and they haven't fulfilled their part. But the ones who should be most concerned with compliance is the United States, which certainly wants its word and its signature to be honored and to have meaning.
Robertson: What about your domestic support? I've heard there's some division. You've won a couple of key votes, but by narrow margins. Are the Israeli people behind you now?
Netanyahu: I think the overwhelming majority of people are behind our demand for Palestinian compliance, our insistence on security, that they fight terrorism as they promised to do. They support the fact that we fight terrorism, and that we have had some successes with this. And above all, they want our concept of peace with security, which means that they support our view of a final settlement that leaves Israel with these defensible borders, and also leaves us with land that we view as historically precious to the Jewish people. This is the land of Judea -- that's where the word Jew comes from -- Jerusalem remaining undivided, forever a united city. For these things, we have overwhelming support.
Robertson: Yasser Arafat wants a capital in Jerusalem; he wants a vast majority of the West Bank. Are you going to give it to him?
Netanyahu: No. He's not going to get that.
Robertson: Well, will there ever be peace without it, do you think?
Netanyahu: There will be peace if he abandons these extreme demands. If he pursues these extreme demands, we will have the foundations for future conflict. If he gets most of the West Bank in his hands, Israel will be indefensible, and an indefensible and weak Israel is merely a prelude to more conflict in a major war, rather than to peace. So if we're going to have peace, he's got to understand that he too must make compromises in his territorial demands. Secondly, a divided Jerusalem -- this would be a tragedy, a catastrophic descent into the past when the city was divided by a Berlin Wall with barbed wire and snipers on either side. I'm not going to let that happen. It's just not going to happen.
Robertson: There are a couple of other players that are acting up in the Middle East: one is Iraq, who possibly has deadly anthrax that's capable of reaching Israel. And I understand the Iranians have now got intermediate missiles, and possibly even long-range ICBMs. What about them -- what does your intelligence say?
Netanyahu: Actually, we share a very close intelligence with the United States, and we view these regimes, Iran and Iraq, that are feverishly arming themselves with ballistic missiles and sundry kinds of unconditional warheads, we view that as a great danger to the peace and stability of the Middle East, and I must say, beyond the Middle East. Could you imagine Iran with ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear weapons capable of reaching not only Israel, but in the second instance, the heart of Europe, and within a dozen years the eastern seaboard of the United States? That's a frightening thought, and therefore, we should do everything in our power to prevent the arming of Iran with these weapons of long-range delivery. In fact, the main supplier of this ballistic missile technology is Russia, and we've been trying to persuade the Russians -- "we" meaning the United States and Israel and other countries -- we've been trying to persuade Russia to stop the supply of this deadly technology to Iran. I said to President Yeltsin, One day, they'll train those missiles at you; you'll be in as great a danger as we are. Well, I hope that the Russians will see the light; in any case, we're not going to stop our efforts to make them see the light.
Robertson: You had a predecessor once upon a time who made a preemptive strike against one of your enemies; it probably saved us all some terrible consequences. Is there any thought of the United States, or maybe a coalition, doing that with Iran?
Netanyahu: Well, I don't want to pre-judge anything, but certainly not even on your show, Pat.
Robertson (laughing): Well, we'll leave that aside then. I'll get to something more pleasant. I understand you've got inflation down to 7 percent; your economy's doing very well. That's a tremendous achievement.
Netanyahu: We have brought inflation down to its lowest level in thirty years. We took the inflation rate and cut it by more than 50 percent. In a mere 18 months, we've lowered a huge deficit that we inherited from the previous government -- we've narrowed that down by a third in that time period. We've privatized 30 times more than the previous government, so we're committed to having a liberal, free-market economy in Israel, which has been waiting a long time for this. If you add the fact that Israel has some of the greatest technology in the world, this combination of high technology and free-market principles, I think, argues well for Israel. We're going to have, I think, a very prosperous country by the time we're finished.
Robertson: American Jews -- are they with you, are they against you? I understand that the councils and presidents of leading American Jewish organizations wrote the President to say that you need to be more evenhanded in regard to negotiations between Israel and the PLO. How are they treating you -- what do you hear from them?
Netanyahu: Well, I was very gratified when I came into Washington yesterday. It was a cold day, but I had two wonderfully warm receptions. One from the representatives of the American Jewish community, and one from the representatives of the American Christian community. Many of the evangelical denominations of the United States came together; I understand that I was able to unite them. And I think it wasn't me -- it was their love of Israel, their support for Israel. It was very heartwarming, and I must say I felt the same thing from the representatives of the Jewish community here.
Robertson: What would you like our audience to do? How can they help you, because it's predominantly evangelical; we haven't had many Jewish people who watch my program. What would you like this audience to do for you or for Israel?
Netanyahu: I think they're already doing it. I think they expressed that support by their own statements, by the letters they write to the editors, by the fact that they communicate to their representatives -- their congressmen, their senators -- to support Israel. They understand that a strong Israel is the best friend the United States has in the Middle East, where it doesn't have many friends. It's the best friend, it's the most loyal friend, it's one that shares the ideal of freedom and democracy and respect for individual lives and individual rights. It's a very deep bond that we have, and every time I come here, may I say that from the opportunities that I get, such as appearing on this show, that bond is self-evident.
Robertson: Are you optimistic about the future? I know it's cloudy and uncertain, and full of trouble . . .
Netanyahu: Yes, I'm optimistic, because I think that the people of Israel have undergone such a tremendous odyssey and have overcome the greatest adversity in the annals of nations. Fifty years ago, we were a windswept leaf: we had experienced the Holocaust, we were a decimated people. But fifty years later, we have a thriving state -- not free of problems, but look at what we have: one of the finest armies in the world, a growing economy, technology, science, and above all, faith in our future and in the friendship we have of those like-minded peoples and individuals around the world.
Robertson: I think I can say truthfully for all of us on this program, God bless you and God bless Israel. Thank you for being with us.
Netanyahu: Thank you very much, Pat, I appreciate it.
Rabbi David Ariel-Yoel
Excerpts from interview conducted on January 23, 1998 with Rabbi David Ariel-Yoel, Rabbi of Harel, Reform Synagogue located at 16 Shmuel HaNagid Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Rabbi Ariel-Yoel is also the head of the Beit HaMidrash learning academy that is located at Hebrew Union College, funded in part by grants from the Israel Ministry of Religious Affairs and the New York Federation of Jewish Agencies.
Conducted by Toby Greenwald, Israel based journalist
Q: A few months ago, you performed a ceremony for a same sex couple. Would you do more in the future? I believe that you referred to this as a "commitment ceremony".
A: "Yes. About eight months ago, I performed a commitment ceremony for a same sex couple. I would do such ceremonies also in the future. I believe that one of the bigger challenges of our generation is to try and bring back the homosexual and lesbian communities into being part of the Jewish tradition The religious clergy fought against such recognition .... If today you are an Orthodox Jew and a homosexual, you are in a lot of trouble. Research shows us that a loving and caring relationship should also get a religious and a public recognition. I believe that such a lesbian and homosexual relationship, if they want to form a family, if they want to be part of Am Yisrael, should get a public and a religious recognition. History teaches us that such a family can be a stable and a long-lasting relationship. It is important that our Rabbis should reach out to homosexuals and lesbians and make them feel at home inside Judaism. I have to admit that public reaction to the ceremony that I performed surprised me. I have to admit hat I had no knowledge that the reaction would be as it was. I got alot of support and hundreds of letters and e-mails, and manly from younger people, my age who understand the need for such ceremonies The attack that I received were mainly from inside our own movement, from lay persons, not only against me personally , but against the decision of that was made by the Reform Rabbinical Council of Israel that allows Reform Rabbis to perform such ceremonies according to their own conscience and their own beliefs ... Twenty years from now , all such things will be seen as natural, like women Rabbis and women Cantors. Such matters will be seen as natural .... No one will see this as anything that is out of normal .... Sexual relationships between couples are their own private matter .... The Reform movement does not see that anything should interfere with what happens in the a couple's bed .... When I perform a heterosexual wedding, I do not necessarily encourage heterosexual experience".
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