Middle East debate: two views of issues

Through Different Eyes, by Hyman Bookbinder and James G. Abourezk, moderated by David K. Shipler. Bethesda, Md.: Adler & Adler. 312 pp. $18.95 It could only happen in ``Through Different Eyes,'' a book written by an American Jew and an American Arab.

The Balfour Declaration, the 67-word cornerstone of Israel's legitimacy, is stated twice in the book, once by Hyman Bookbinder, once by James Abourezk. But the versions differ in punctuation, making one less favorable to Palestinians, the other more so.

The authors disagree on everything else as well. But that's the intention, because the book is their debate of the topic: Is United States policy in the Middle East in America's best interest?

The debate immediately focuses on Israel, whose security has been paramount in United States policy for 40 years.

First up is Hyman Bookbinder, the dean of Jewish lobbyists. A spokesman for the American Jewish Committee's Washington office, Bookbinder has enormous stature within the Jewish community and outside. He was present at the signing of the Camp David accords. As part of a Jewish-American delegation, Bookbinder met Israeli leaders to discuss divisive issues including the Pollard spy affair in 1985.

Bookbinder argues:

The necessity of creating Israel was proved by the persecution of Jews throughout history.

Israel is a stable friend of the US because of common culture, values, and interests.

Full realization of Palestinian rights could have happened long ago, and may yet be possible in the context of an overall peace settlement that guarantees Israel's existence.

``For almost forty years,'' Bookbinder says, ``partisans on both sides of this tragic conflict have argued over which side committed the most heinous crimes. Such an argument will never be resolved, and need not be.''

Opposing Bookbinder is James Abourezk. One of the most prominent Arab-Americans, the former US senator is founder and chairman of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Abourezk sees things very differently:

Israel should not have been created at the expense of the Palestinians, whose land was appropriated for the new nation.

Israel pursues an unstated but unabated goal of territorial expansion, and at a high cost to US finances, moral standing, and credibility.

If only the truth were known, the American public would not stand for Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

``[Supporters of Israel] argue that ... the only relevant subject of debate is the future, or how to end the conflict. Fine. I will limit my discussion to the future if, in return, someone in authority will publicly acknowledge that the Palestinians have been betrayed, consistently and viciously, by the world powers, and terribly wronged by the Israelis,'' Abourezk says.

Each man eloquently argues and painstakingly documents his conclusion: Bookbinder, that US policy nurtures its interests in the region; Abourezk, that it poisons them.

The debate's only clear winner is the reader.

But it's like the old joke, in which a science professor tells his students that half of what he has taught them is wrong. The problem is, he doesn't know which half. Readers of ``Through Different Eyes'' may get the same feeling, but at least they are given both sides. The truth, one assumes, is in there somewhere.

Scott Pendleton is on the Monitor staff.

Bookbinder urges direct peace talks

In a Monitor interview, Hyman Bookbinder described one approach to a Middle East peace involving an international conference leading to direct negotiations - an approach Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's prime minister, opposes.

``... if with the help of the United States a conference can be put together nevertheless, and then Israel seems to be the only intransigent partner, they may be persuaded to go along ...,'' Bookbinder says.

A major hurdle, he says, is who will represent the Palestinians. He has heard rumors that at the ``very highest levels'' of the United States government, ways are being considered to allow the US to say ``Arafat has now met our conditions.''

``He doesn't have to make a statement in front of a microphone saying, `I now declare that I recognize Israel has a right to exist.' In other words, things are being talked about,'' Bookbinder says.

``... when America has now said that it, America, feels that the PLO has now earned American recognition and negotiations, the moral pressure, the political pressure on Israel will be so great that I believe Israel would - and I say personally, I say should - then say, `...we too will consider that the PLO deserves that kind of recognition.'''

The one thing he wanted Palestinians to know, he said, was ``that we regret the pain and frustration they have felt all these years. That we, American and Israeli Jews, are not their enemy. And I hope they believe it when we say it.''


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