Israeli, Palestinian tour US to make case for Mideast peace
THE grim news from Israel this past month has been of a hijacked bus, a thwarted bomb plot, and the seemingly inexorable tightening of Israel's West Bank occupation.Skip to next paragraph
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None of the headlines point toward peace.
But a retired Israeli Army officer and a Palestinian professor have toured the United States, trying calmly to show that Israelis and Palestinians can talk - and perhaps someday make peace.
The two do not agree with the thesis, so forcefully argued by the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is irreversible. They believe that Israel can still trade occupied territory for peace. They see the main element in the Arab-Israeli conflict as a need to overcome - on both sides - deeply held fears, suspicions, and misperceptions.
Aside from a few incidents of heckling, the Israeli and his Palestinian counterpart were well received by many Jewish congregations and other groups during their six-week tour. At the end of one appearance, in Seattle, an old man came up and hugged the Israeli, Mordechai Baron, and told him that at last he could see a ''spark'' of hope for peace. A pessimistic Jewish leader agreed that joint appearances by a prominent Israeli and Palestinian at least helped to keep a vision of peace alive.
In Cleveland, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin's youth movement, Betar, did some picketing. The protesters carried a sign calling Colonel Baron a traitor.
''There was opposition,'' said Baron, looking back on the recently ended tour. ''There was heckling. There were some Arabs who were obviously displeased that a Palestinian would appear with me.''
''In a Los Angeles synagogue, there were some Jewish Defense League hecklers, '' he continued. ''They were hustled out.''
But the Israeli said that the reaction of most audiences was positive.
''There was a sense of surprise and disbelief in the beginning, and then all of a sudden, people saw that while there were differences between the two of us, there was also a great amicability and common ground,'' he said.
Baron dismissed as ridiculous the charge that he is a ''traitor.'' He fought for Israel, and was wounded, in the 1948 war. He was an assistant to the late Gen. Moshe Dayan and served with the rank of colonel as chief education officer in the Israel Defense Forces. He is a former member of the Central Council of the Israeli Labor Party and is an activist in the Peace Now movement.
In an interview, the genial, slightly disheveled Baron said that for 20 years - between 1947 and 1967 - he felt that a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict was impossible, ''(a), because the Arabs did not yet see that they could not win a war, and (b), because we didn't have anything to give them.''
In mid-1967, after the Israelis had won the six-day Arab-Israeli war, Baron wrote a speech for Yitzhak Rabin, then military chief of staff, on the ''sadness of victory.'' He became more involved in what he described as ''dovish activities'' and advocated compromise.
In 1977, after Egypt's President Anwar Sadat flew to Israel to make peace, an even greater change occurred.
''Many of us started to say, 'Well, peace is possible and, therefore, let's pursue it in a vigorous way,' '' said Baron.
On March 18 of this year, Baron began his tour of the United States with Mohammed Milhem, the Palestinian mayor of the West Bank town of Halhul, who was expelled by the Israeli authorities in 1980. Mr. Milhem had to return to the Middle East suddenly on personal business. He was replaced by Nafez Nazzal, a soft-spoken, neatly dressed Palestinian professor of history at Bir Zeit University on the West Bank, who is currently a fellow and visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania. The tour was sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and the New Jewish Agenda.
The kind of peace that Baron and Professor Nazzal describe would be based on an Israeli withdrawal (with some possible adjustments) to the borders that existed before the 1967 war. It would allow for the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank.