US Jews, Arabs Now Find Some Common Ground

Friendlier ties may lead to support from both sides for Mideast aid

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On a recent visit to Washington, Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan attends a brunch at which several guests are well-known Jewish-American supporters of Israel. Afterwards, a guest invites him to speak to the United Jewish Appeal, a major fund-raiser for Jewish charities. He accepts and makes a plea for Jewish-Americans to donate money to Jordan.

The same week, Arab and Jewish-Americans active in the Democratic Party hold a joint reception.

Walls are tumbling down not only between Arabs and Israelis but also between Arab-Americans and Jewish-Americans.

In the wake of the Sept. 13 accord between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, groups in the United States that constantly sought to thwart each other are suddenly finding common ground and common goals.

``There's a spirit of reaching out, and it has spread broadly across both communities,'' says James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington. ``We are one-time adversaries who are now colleagues.''

The implications of friendlier ties are significant. They may lead to fewer duels over foreign aid, in which Jewish-American groups oppose giving money to Arab states and Arab-Americans oppose giving it to Israel.

``International economic aid to the impoverished West Bank and Gaza is essential for the success'' of the new peace agreement,'' wrote the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main pro-Israel lobby group, in its weekly journal.

``I have a stake in seeing that Israel's aid does not get cut,'' says Mr. Zogby, who fiercely fought loan guarantees to the Jewish state two years ago. ``Anybody who raises the question of cutting aid to Israel puts the peace process at risk.''

American Jews and Arabs are working already on a private-sector initiative that will bring investment in the West Bank and Gaza strip. Longer term, Zogby envisions working with Jewish-Americans on common issues in the US, such as immigration and civil rights.

UNTIL Israel and the PLO recognized each other this summer, contacts between Jewish- and Arab-Americans had been limited mainly to the doves in both camps. Other contacts were often strained. AIPAC has frequently lined up with the hard-line Likud government on issues in the past, putting it at odds with Arab-American groups.

The night after the Sept. 13 accord, in a first, the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA) threw a joint reception with Jewish groups. Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith, which has held a hard line on the PLO in the past, was seen handing his card to Palestinian leaders, as were AIPAC officials.

Now AIPAC is participating in a Jewish organization task force aimed at educating the Jewish-American community about the peace process.

Beneath all the bonhomie, though, differences persist. Elements in both camps oppose the PLO-Israeli agreement. Other suspicions linger.

Some Arab-American leaders accuse AIPAC of being behind a nonbinding amendment recently passed by Congress. It called for the PLO to renounce the Arab boycott of Israel before opening a PLO office in Washington. AIPAC President Steve Grossman denies that his group was behind the measure.

Even though the vote was largely symbolic - and a PLO office likely will be opened - it shows the caution that still exists among some congressional members about the accord.

``I don't know if this fragile peace can withstand obstacles from the US Congress,'' NAAA Executive Director Khalil Jahshan says. ``There was too much emotion in the aftermath of the Sept. 13 signing, and it's going to take some time to resolve the difficult issues.''

Even if some groups move cautiously, there remains widespread support in the Jewish-American community for a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip.

A poll commissioned last month by the American Jewish Committee found that 90 percent of Jewish-Americans believe the mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO is positive. Another poll showed that a majority of Jews said they favor a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Zogby says the era of name-calling is over: ``It won't happen anymore. What's happened is irreversible.''

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