The indefatigable editors and sponsors of New Outlook, the monthly of Israel’s peace camp, convened an international symposium in Washington on October 27. “Eminent scholars and statesmen,” as the announcement put it—Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans—were invited to talk about solving the Palestinian problem. As with an earlier New Outlook conference in Israel, this one was intended to show that a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians could and should take place. To have prominent Israelis talking to Palestinians in Washington might impress American politicians and American Jews, might suggest that the Begin government is partly responsible for the siege against which it is struggling. The participants were expected to do what Begin will not do—endorse Palestinian self-determination, insofar as this would be consistent with Israeli security. In full view of President Carter and the Zionist Organization of America, they would discuss the kind of two-state solution that Israeli and PLO officials might eventually negotiate.
New Outlook’s first conference, held in November 1977, was widely viewed as a success since it seemed a “prelude,” as the New Outlook editor Simha Flapan grandly remarked, to President Sadat’s “historical visit to Jerusalem” later that month. Unfortunately history’s cunning of reason was not on the side of Flapan’s little magazine this time. The conference had its poignant moments but these mainly pointed up the deep dilemmas that have already stalled the Camp David autonomy plans and that were bound to leave many of the conference participants bitterly divided.
As for the participants themselves, it must be said that they were not exactly what the conference organizers had in mind. One purpose of the symposium had been to find a way to bring together West Bank mayors (e.g., Karim Khalaf, Faid Kawassme), well-connected Palestinian intellectuals (Walid Khalidi, Edward Said) and others loyal to the Fatah leadership in the PLO, and the centrist doves of Israel’s Labour Party. Such dovish Labour Party politicians and intellectuals as Abba Eban, Yossi Sarid, A.B. Yehoshua, Uzi Baram, and Micha Harish have met with West Bank Palestinians in the past. But a meeting in Washington, unlike one in Nablus, would be seen as a move toward mutual recognition by Labour and Fatah leaders. For even if all the participants came as individuals, even if neither side claimed to speak for their movements, it would still be clear that they would not have come to Washington without the approval of people higher up. An important precedent would have been set. Or so the New Outlook organizers hoped.
Those who showed up at Washington’s International Inn for this wedding of sorts, however, were immediately discouraged to find neither the bride nor the groom present. Just before the meeting was to begin it became clear that neither the West Bank mayors nor the Labour Party doves were coming. Conspicuously represented instead were young people of the Israeli “Peace Now” movement, which is not a political party and is mainly concerned with protesting …
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The Palestinian Position: An Exchange March 6, 1980