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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 1989, Page 30


Stanley Sheinbaum

By Pat McDonnell Twair

"I guess it all started when I was born Jewish," Stanley Sheinbaum told members of Southern California Americans for Democratic Action when he described his history-making meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. Sheinbaum, who is an economist, the publisher of New Perspectives Quarterly, and a regent of the University of California, says his concern over Israeli policies stems back to 1948.

"After the state of Israel was declared, Israel refused to take responsibility for the 800,000 to 900,000 Palestinian refugees," he stated. "Israel was showing intransigent signs that I thought would jeopardize its security over time. Sooner or later, those refugees would organize. In the mid-60s, the PLO was founded. The mind-set of the Israeli government is not to do anything about the Palestinians. This puts Israel in greater jeopardy with each day that passes."

Sheinbaum described a meeting between the leaders of the American Jewish Congress and Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, and Ariel Sharon in January 1987. The AJC leaders asked the Israelis what, beside armed response, they had in mind to deal with the five-week-old Palestinian uprising.

"No one had an answer except for Moshe Arens, and his response was, 'that's easy, Jews and Arabs will have to live together.' That's a ridiculous statement while the Israelis were killing and breaking the bones of Palestinians. If the Israelis don't talk to the PLO, the problem will never be resolved. "

A few weeks later, Sheinbaum said, Swedish Foreign Minister Sten Andersson talked to Israeli politicians and came to the conclusion that PLO representatives should meet with American Jews. Aware that if he talked to leaders of major Jewish organizations, they would notify Israelis who would try to undermine such talks, Andersson was urged by a Swedish undersecretary to "go to Sheinbaum."

"Go To Sheinbaum"

Secrecy was uppermost in the minds of the Swedes, Sheinbaum recalled. Hence, Sheinbaum gave up the idea of inviting 15 to 20 American Jews and settled on international attorney Rita Hauser, a Republican, to balance Sheinbaum's liberal bent, and Drora Kass, American executive director of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. All conversations were in Stockholm. None were over the phone.

Sheinbaum said the job of the American Jews was to encourage the PLO to meet US government terms for opening a dialogue. These were PLO renunciation of terrorism, acceptance of UN resolutions 242 and 338 as a basis for an international conference, and acceptance of the existence of the state of Israel.

"The Swedes asked us, if Arafat were to issue such a statement, what the reaction of American Jewry would be," Sheinbaum said. "We said we didn't know. We did know that we had to assure Arafat that once he made his statement, the Americans would support him."

Sheinbaum wanted the personal guarantee of President Reagan that recognition would come with Arafat's statement. For that reason, in late October, he met with Lt. Gen. Colin Powell, head of the National Security Council. Powell said the US had sent signals that if the PLO met the three points, the US would respond favorably.

Arguing that only President Reagan's assurance would motivate Arafat to speak "the magic words," Sheinbaum put his proposals in a letter to Powell, who used it as the working basis for discussions in the White House.

The first Arafat statement was prepared Nov. 15, but Sheinbaum said the three points weren't as "neat and crisp" as the US demanded. Then, on Nov. 21, Sheinbaum, Hauser, and Kass met with four high-ranking members of the PLO.

Over lunch, Sheinbaum was asked how he knew the White House would respond to the PLO statement. He produced a letter from Gen, Powell with a White House letterhead. It did the trick. In the afternoon, the American Jews and the PLO officials developed sentences that left no doubt the White House would respond favorably.

The one weakness was that the document didn't contain the name of Arafat. Secretary of State George Shultz said he liked the statement, however, calling it a vast improvement over statements issued at the Palestine National Council meeting at Algiers. Nevertheless, on Nov. 26, Sheinbaum woke up to discover that Shultz had declined to issue Arafat a visa to address the UN in New York.

Arafat signaled he wanted personally to attend a second meeting in Stockholm Dec. 6. This time, Sheinbaum's group of three had expanded to five American Jews with the addition of Menachem Rosensaft, president of the Labor Zionist Alliance, and Abraham Udovitch, professor of Middle East history at Princeton University.

Initially the group heard familiar questions from Yasser Arafat: "Why are we here? Who are you? Why do I have to do exactly what Shultz wants?" Nevertheless, a document was concluded by the end of the day.

On Dec. 13, Arafat delivered his speech before the special session of the UN General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

"The first two points were crisp and clear, but the third point was too flowery for Shultz, who turned it down," Sheinbaum said. "Sten Andersson is a very sweet, gentle man, but he can be tough and this time, he warned Arafat: 'you missed your opportunity today, now you must grab it at the press conference tomorrow."'

It was explained to Arafat that Shultz had to have implicit recognition of Israel because if he opened a dialogue with the PLO, he would be called before congress to explain his acceptance. Sheinbaum is of the opinion that George Bush and James Baker III are largely responsible for Shultz's 180-degree turn on Dec. 14 when he accepted Arafat's statement.

In response to a query about the PLO covenant which calls for a democratic, secular state in the whole of Palestine, Sheinbaum retorted:

"The covenant was abrogated by what went on in Stockholm and Geneva. We realized that if we talked to Arafat about renouncing it, it would make things more difficult for him with the rejectionists. Critics say these are words, not deeds, but the minute Arafat doesn't live up to these three points, the possibility of negotiations will be over with. Now critics say he must renounce the covenant. They simply want words and more words."

At a talk before the Cousins Club in Los Angeles, Sheinbaum said the US dialogue with the PLO has provided "elbow room" for all involved parties.

"Time is working against Israel. The Israelis are never going to remove Syria and Soviet weaponry is pouring into Syria. Israel talks about secure borders, annexation, and doesn't want a Palestinian state. If it annexes the West Bank, Syria will be on its border. The only hope is for Israel to get to the point where it can work out an accommodation—a homeland for both people."

The best hope, Sheinbaum believes, is an international peace conference. The optimal format, he says, would be an umbrella body with the two adversaries working out their conflicts rather than for the superpowers to impose their will.

Pat McDonnell Twair is a free-lance writer based in California.