Recent allegations that Israel has some 200 nuclear warheads stashed at a disguised site in the Negev Desert have so far been categorically denied by the Israeli government. Even so, these charges have stirred tremendous public debate in Israel, as well as in diaspora Jewish communities. And just as the 1982 invasion of Lebanon was directly responsible for a burgeoning of organizations in Israel dedicated to working for Arab-Israeli peace, the recent reports could well be the catalyst to produce a significant anti-nuclear movement.
Meanwhile, the alleged presence of these bombs makes clearer the strategically important nature of conflicts involving Israel. Noam Chomsky, in his book,The Fateful Triangle, states that, of all the trouble spots in the world, "...none poses such dangers of superpower confrontation as the Middle East, ... and of the many conflicts in this region, none approaches the Israel-Arab conflict--and at its heart, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians--in the threat it poses of global, nuclear war."
Fortunately, there is a positive potential from superpower involvement in the region. This was pointed out by three Israeli "doves" in Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal on speaking tours this fall. They emphasized the crucial importance of U.S. and USSR participation in an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
General Mattityahu (Matti) Peled (ret.) commented, "The great decisions regarding the Middle East, such as the Partition Plan that brought Israel into existence, were adopted when the two superpowers were in agreement. The withdrawal of Israel from the Sinai in 1957 was the direct result of the two superpowers insisting upon it. It is a fact that an agreement between the two superpowers immediately affects the Middle East."
Peled and his speaking companion and colleague Mohammed Miari, an Israeli Arab, were in Toronto September 19-21, speaking to Jewish and Palestinian audiences. They were sponsored by the Toronto Universities Middle East Group (TUMEG). Both are members of the Knesset (Parliament), representing the Progressive List for Peace (PLP), a small party of the Left. They clearly articulated the two cardinal principals that make up the PLP's platform: Israel and the PLO must recognize each other mutually and simultaneously if a lasting peace is to be achieved in the region, and Israel's Arab (Palestinian) citizens must receive fully equal treatment.
Matti Peled has long been known as Israel's own "Peace General," and with good reason. A member of the Israeli Army General Staff in the 1967 war, he subsequently became convinced that simultaneous, mutual recognition is the only moral and achievable solution to the competing claims of the two peoples to the same land. Along with other politically prominent Israelis, he formed the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, which has been holding meetings with PLO officials since 1976. These pioneering efforts at dialogue have been a major influence toward increasing the PLO's readiness to accept negotiation with Israel as a viable alternative to "armed struggle" as a means to gain self-determination for the Palestinian people.
Peled's party, the PLP, is unique on the political scene, in that Arabs and Jews enjoy equal representation. During the 1984 elections, an unsuccessful attempt was made to bar the PLP from running, based on allegations that it harbored "subversives." And General Peled feels that Toronto's mainstream Jewish community was "boycotting" the PLP speakers "because they don't want to get information" about the true situation in the Middle East.
The third Israeli speaker to visit Canada in Sep tember found Jewish audiences more accessible than did Peled and Miari, despite his very similar message. Abdel Wahab Darawshe is a Knesset member (M.K.) from the centrist Labour Party, half of the current "national unity government." Like his PLP colleagues, Darawshe unequivocally supports the principles of full equality for Israel's Arab citizens and simultaneous mutual recognition by Israel and the Palestinians as represented by the PLO. This is a minority position within Labour, but one which Mr. Darawshe says has a growing following among the party's "new centre"--the youth and student branches--and is also espoused by "dovish" members of the Knesset, including former Foreign Minister Abba Eban and others of Labour, and by many more M.K.s from parties to its left.
Darawshe stresses his unique position as the only Arab M.K. in the Labour party, and sees himself as representing the interests of the 53,000 Israeli Arabs who voted Labour, as well as others who request his help, including voteless non-citizens in the occupied territories.
Asked why a man with his background is involved in what is considered a Zionist Party, Darawshe explains that, in addition to identifying with the party's social democratic program, "by joining the Labour Party I have a chance to influence more than others that are outside the government--to influence Israeli public opinion and the Jews abroad also.... I find open doors everywhere."
In Toronto, the doors open to Mr. Darawshe included those of prestigious Holy Blossom Temple, where he told a receptive audience of over 200 that "There is no solution by force for our conflict.... We can only reach solution by mutual recognition for both national movements. The Palestinian movement and the Arab world will recognize the right of Israel to exist, will condemn terror and stop it, and at the same time Israel must recognize the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people."
Darawshe expressed confidence that "peace can be achieved," but stressed that a courageous breakthrough is required: Unless Israel accepts the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians and is willing to negotiate with them, "It's a real obstacle to peace." He delivered a similar message to the Canada-Israel Committee.
Darawshe also stressed that a massive shift in Israeli public opinion is required in order to push the nation's leadership toward this breakthrough, and cited organizations such as Israel's largest peace group, Peace Now, as facilitating that shift. (The Canadian Friends of Peace Now sponsored Darawshe's tour.) He was especially encouraged by a forum recently sponsored by Peace Now in the West Bank town of Hebron, where Palestinian leaders stated publicly, "We are PLO supporters, but we believe that Israel has the right to exist and we are ready to reach mutual recognition with Israel." He also feels that the existence of such conciliatory groups encourages moderation in the Arab world and among Palestinians.
In Toronto, Darawshe met privately with representatives of Canadian Friends of Peace Now and members of the Palestinian community. Both groups expressed satisfaction with the meeting, and many hope to continue the dialogue that was initiated.
Says Darawshe, "It's important to dialogue here ...[because] the Palestinians and the Arabs here can influence the PLO because they have good relations with the PLO. And the Jewish community can influence the Israeli government." He adds, "Nobody can say, 'I'm neutral.'...everyone must play his role to encourage dialogue and the peaceful movements on both sides.... I believe that's the only way. The other option is the continuation of bloodshed, of terror, of wars."
Abdel Wahab Darawshe's conviction of the importance of continued--indeed increased-- dialogue with the PLO places him beside the other M.K.s from the PLP in strong opposition to the recently passed "anti-terror" law (called "anti-peace law" by peace movement members) which makes unauthorized contact with PLO representatives punishable by three years' imprisonment. He told me that if efforts to change the law fail, "a great group of Knesset members together must challenge it and break it... and actually meet with members of the PNC (Palestine National Council, the policy-making arm of the PLO)." Civil disobedience, Israeli style!
What of the coming months? All three "peaceniks" voiced apprehension that Itzhak Shamir's recent take-over as Prime Minister of Israel will threaten the fragile peace process. "If [after the rotation of power] the Likud and Shamir will say, 'We are not ready [for an] international [peace] conference...the status quo is quite good for us.'," Darawshe sees a vote of non-confidence as an appropriate end to the coalition because, he says, "The status quo will lead to another war, another bloodshed."
Canadians who want to support the peaceful movements on both sides may want to inform themselves on the issues. All three speakers agreed that the North American media were not a reliable source for such information. The following periodicals should help clarify the 'muddy waters' of Middle-East events.
Maxine Nunn, of Toronto, is working on a book of interviews with peace and justice activists in Israel and the occupied territories.