Enough is enough. That was the message delivered here by Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy in response to a barrage of anti-Israel rhetoric from members of the Arab League in the weeks since last month’s signing of the revised Wye River agreement.
“There is no peace through coercion,” Levy told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations during his first trip to the city as foreign minister for the purpose of addressing the United Nations General Assembly.
And he insisted that if the Palestinian Authority does not fulfill its end of the revised accord, “there will be no advancement” of the peace process.
“He knows it,” Levy said of Palestinian President Yasir Arafat, “and America knows it.”
He repeated his tough talk in remarks to the General Assembly, telling delegates: “Peace entails the end of boycotts, the end of contempt and defamation, the end of incitement and confrontation. … We cannot accept dualism by which, paralleling the peace process, a fierce political war is waged against Israel in different international forums, including the podium of this honorable assembly.
“This dualism is inconsistent with a peace process and is intolerable, as are the extreme decisions taken by the Arab League against Israel,” Levy continued. “We hoped for and expected a different atmosphere.”
He was apparently referring to Arafat’s address last week to the General Assembly, which Israeli officials said sounded like one that might have been delivered when the peace process had all but collapsed under the prior Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu. In his remarks, Arafat “demanded that the Israeli government immediately and decisively cease all of its measures which violate international resolutions, laws and covenants and which destroy the chances for achieving peace.”
In addition, he again called for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and the “realization of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland” — issues that are now the subject of face-to-face final-status negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
In a meeting with members of the Conference of Presidents — from which the press was pointedly excluded — Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reportedly expressed displeasure with Arafat’s speech. She declined to discuss it publicly when she left the meeting.
But Israeli officials and Jewish leaders had no such hesitation.
“It was outrageous,” fumed Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. “He mentioned each final-status issue and tried to have the international community take a stand on it.”
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, suggested that the speech was prompted by an “assessment by the Arabs that they were not going to get what they want at the end of final-status talks. So they decided to isolate Israel and put it under pressure in the community of nations to exact as much as they can at the negotiating table.”
In recent weeks, there have been these developments:
n The Arab League met with Disney executives after they threatened a boycott of all Disney products to protest an Israeli exhibit at Disney World that was to open Friday.
n Last week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said Arab nations would not resume multilateral peace talks that broke off in 1996 until Israel resumed peace talks with Syria and Lebanon.
n As the General Assembly opened this week, Israel still found itself barred by Arab nations from joining a regional grouping at the UN so that it could sit in the UN Security Council. And there were scores of anti-Israel resolutions waiting to be voted upon.
n Despite progress in the peace process — Arafat last week told reporters that Israel was implementing the revised Wye accord “to the letter” — no additional Arab states have established diplomatic ties with Israel.
Eitan Bentsur, the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said it was “absolutely wrong” for Arab League officials to have met with Disney executives.
“What business did they have in a commercial enterprise?” he asked.
Bentsur said the multinational talks were the “most serious” example of solidarity with the peace process and questioned why they have not been restarted. He noted that the Egyptians first promised to resume the talks once the Wye accord was signed, and then said it would happen once the revised accord was reached. Now that a new demand has been made, Bentsur said, “Israel is not going to participate in informal multinational talks unless they are full-fledged talks.”
Bentsur warned also that unless progress at the negotiating table produces tangible results — such as more Arab nations establishing diplomatic relations with Israel — “it might impede the peace process. [The Israeli] people would like to know where we are heading, what is in the offing.”
There were different signals this week about the possibility of renewed Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Alon Pinkas, chief of staff of the Foreign Minister’s office, said the U.S. has been working for the past three weeks to find a formula that would bring both sides to the negotiating table.
“We are aiming for talks in October,” he said, adding that it would be “logical to assume” they would take place in Washington.
In prepared remarks, Albright told the Conference of Presidents that she and President Bill Clinton have been “actively engaged with both sides. If we did not think an agreement were possible, we would not be making the effort to bring them together.”
But Levy said that although Israel wished to resume talks with Syria, “unfortunately over the last few years [Syria continues to] talk to us in a manner of a dictatorship.” He said Syrian President Hafez Assad continues to insist that negotiations resume where they broke off in 1996, at a point Assad insists Israel had promised to return all of the Golan Heights.
“They demand that Israel should agree in advance [of the talks],” said Levy. “That means that the talks themselves would be a farce. In recent days we have heard further statements that Syria expects Israel to retreat to the Sea of Galilee. … The only way to clarify the issues is face-to-face.”
On Tuesday, the Syrian government-controlled newspaper Tishrin called on Arabs to “stop normalization” with Israel because it “doesn’t want peace with the Arabs. … The new Israeli government does not intend to move towards genuine peace that would ensure justice and security to all parties. It disguises its malicious intentions with slogans and statements aimed at misleading the world and the Arabs.”
That same day, Albright told the Conference of Presidents that Israel and Syria were “treating the other with unusual respect and trust.”