An Israeli in Jordan: `looking people in the eye and talking with them'

To the delight of Jordanians who stop him on the street and the embarrassment of their government, maverick Israeli politician Uri Avnery has come to Amman. Mr. Avnery is chairman of the far-left Progressive List for Peace, a tiny Israeli party composed of Arabs and Jews who advocate the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The PLP has two members in Israel's 120-member parliament. With his distinctive beard and shock of white hair, Avnery was recognized frequently as he strolled along the streets here.

``People keep coming up, shaking my hand, and saying they read my articles all the time,'' said a delighted Avnery, who is editor of Haolem Hazeh, a Hebrew-language daily. A controversial figure in Israeli politics for decades, Avnery has met often with Palestine Liberation Organization leaders, including Yasser Arafat.

The main purpose of Avnery's visit ``is really to get the feeling of what is happening here. . . . I believe in looking people in the eye and talking with them. At this moment it's especially important because there is a lot of nonsense being talked about in Israel about what the King can and can't do.'' Part of the delight of his visit, Avnery also added, was satisfying the almost-obsessive curiosity he and many Israelis have about their neighbors.

From Jordan's perspective, however, Avnery's unexpected arrival is poorly timed, officials here say privately. Since King Hussein terminated his joint effort with the PLO last month to work toward Mideast peace negotiations, Jordanian-PLO tension has mounted. Pro-Jordanian West Bank mayor Zafer Masri was assassinated Sunday. Two dissident Palestinian factions claimed responsibility for the killing.

Avnery's trip, though private and low-key, leaves Jordan open to charges by Arab hard-liners that it is secretly conducting negotiations with Israel.

This is Avnery's first trip to Jordan, which still is officially at war with Israel. Israelis wishing to visit Jordan require special permission from Israel. Jordan does not accept visitors on Israeli passports, so German-born Avnery got a second, German passport.

His trip from Cairo to Amman was exciting, Avnery said, because the first person he saw on the flight was Abu Jihad -- the man who heads the PLO's military wing and whose real name is Khalil Wazir. How did Avnery feel about talking to the man who has reportedly planned several attacks against Israelis?

``I have been a terrorist myself once,'' Avnery said. He joined the Irgun Zwei Leumi, a militant Zionist underground organization, ``when they were throwing bombs at Arab markets in Palestine.'' The Irgun attacked British and Arab targets in the last days of the British mandate, before Israel became a state in 1948. Avnery said he joined the Irgun ``because I wanted the British out of Palestine.'' He left Irgun three years later because it was ``too right-wing.''

``I don't like terrorism,'' he said. ``I certainly don't like indiscriminate terrorism, but I do make a distinction between armed resistance against military occupation and indiscriminate destruction. I believe armed resistance is only legitimate when aimed at occupation forces, and that goes for Arabs and Israelis alike.''

Talks with Jordanians and Palestinians, Avnery said, have convinced him that the peace process is deadlocked now, but that has not stopped him working for progress.

``Things have advanced a lot,'' in Avnery's view. ``Israelis are a nervous, impatient people, they want everything to be solved right now. This process crawls . . . but I am beginning to understand the Arab perspective that it is a historic process -- it takes time.''

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