A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
April/May 1992, Page 61, 62
Southern Californians Hear Face-Off Between Israeli, Lebanese Consuls
By Pat McDonnell Twair
It was a highly unusual debate. In fact, it wasn't even called a debate, but a public forum. The two speakers were almost the length of a soccer field apart, in the grand ballroom of the Anaheim Marriott Hotel, with the moderator situated between them.
The event featured Lebanon's consul general in Los Angeles, Farid Abboud, at the souther podium and Israel's Consul General Ron Ronen at the northern podium. It occurred six days after Israeli helicopter gunships assassinated Hezbollah leader Sheikh Abbas Musawi, his wife, son and eight others in southern Lebanon, setting off a chain of attacks and counterattacks including a major incursion of Israeli troops through United Nations blockades and into Shi'i Lebanese villages outside Israel's "security zone."
The forum was sponsored by the Arab American Republican Club of Orange County whose president, Norman Tanber, spent more than three months negotiating rules agreeable to both speakers.
Consul General Ronen who, under the name of Ran Peker, is alleged to have shot and killed two Egyptian civilians in 1967, started by asking the moderator to move the two separated podiums closer together.
Moderator Peter Buffa, a Costa Mesa city councilman, responded: "We have established rules and we can't begin moving the furniture at this stage. What you see is what you get."
Stating that the Arabs have been moving steadily toward peace, while the Israelis have been moving toward confrontation, Consul General Abboud said the Arabs agreed after decades to negotiate face-to-face with the Israelis.
"The most logical outcome should have been a mutual and balanced recognition of both Israelis and Palestinians as nations entitled to political rights, freedom and security," Abboud stated. "This has not happened: Palestinians are still denied this fundamental right and 5.3 million Palestinians, half of whom live inside Israel, do not exist as a political entity in Israel's view."
He stressed that at Camp David the Arabs accepted U.N. Security Council Resolution 242's land-for-peace formula, but in response Yitzhak Shamir refuses to discuss withdrawal. Abboud charged that Israel also is occupying 11 percent of Lebanon's land and, although it says it won't annex this land, it refuses to withdraw.
Guerrilla attacks have actually increased since Israel established the "security zone" inside Lebanon, the Lebanese diplomat continued. "At any rate, the borders of one country cannot be altered to accommodate the security needs of another one. Instead of trying to change the border to suit its security needs, Israel will have to adjust its security arrangements to the existing border," he said.
Abboud pointed out that all Arab attacks in recent years have been aimed at Israeli positions inside Lebanon. Rockets were launched across the border into Israel only after Israel killed Sheikh Musawi's party on Feb. 16. Abboud called for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 425 calling for Israel to withdraw from Lebanon and allow the Lebanese army and U.N. troops to control the border.
Israeli Consul General Ronen described Israel as a small country of four million Jews surrounded by 22 Arabs states whose only goal is to destroy Israel. He said he is a third-generation Israeli who has been forced to fight in six wars for the existence of Israel.
The audience burst into laughter, however, when he stated that Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad commands the fourth largest army in the world. Continuing, Ronen said Saudi Arabia has funded the purchase by Syria of Scud missiles and Syria is making a contract with Iran to build ground-to-ground missiles. The Israeli diplomat said that Israel wants a defensible peace, but that Iraq's Saddam Hussain has remained in power since his military defeat in Kuwait and already is a threat to the Jewish state.
An audience member asked Abboud why he focused on Israel's presence in Lebanon, but did not mention Syria's role in Lebanon. The Lebanese consul general replied: "Israel repeatedly invades Lebanon and says it's doing it for our good. Each incursion is catastrophic for our population. We have agreements with Syria and it will begin to withdraw its troops in September. I wish we could have a clear date for Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon."
Ronen reported: "We have no claims on Lebanon, but please stop terrorist activities."
A question addressed to Ronen asked if he truly believed no injustice has been done to the Palestinians. He responded that the Palestinian problem can be solved around the negotiating table and that in May 1989 Israel offered elections to the Palestinians.
Both consuls were asked to give their definitions of terrorism. Ronen asserted the intifada and shelling of northern Israel are terrorism.
Abboud defined terrorism as "premeditated violence against civilian targets. This definition fits like a glove Israeli attacks on my country," he said.
The Lebanese envoy said no attacks were made inside Israel before Feb. 18. "Sticking the label of terrorist on people with whom you don't agree solves nothing," Abboud continued. "Put the slogans aside and face the real issues that a people have been kicked off their land and Israel repeatedly invades neighboring countries. Peace is what you do, not what you say."
Israel's Nuclear Arsenal
Pointing out that since Israel is afraid of the Scud, another questioner asked Ronen how he expected the Arabs not to fear Israel's nuclear arsenal.
Ronen: "I haven't heard any Israeli senior official say we have nuclear weapons." As laughter rippled through the room, he continued: "We've always said Israel won't be the first to introduce the use of nuclear weapons in the area."
Abboud: "Israel is lying. The nuclear facility has been photographed and Vanunu has been imprisoned for exposing it. Seymour Hersh documented in his book, The Samson Option, that Israel has more than 200 nuclear weapons. It is simply, bluntly, a lie to say Israel doesn't possess nuclear bombs. It threatened the U.S. that it would use them against the Soviet Union if the U.S. didn't sent it massive arms supplies during the 1973 war."
When asked if he wants Lebanon to be a satellite of Syria and the Hezbollah, Abboud said: "Lebanon needs to build its state institutions. If Israel remains inside Lebanon it will only contribute to the perpetuation of Syrian troops in Lebanon. When Hezbollah attacks Israeli military installations inside Lebanon this is not a terrorist act. Lebanon does not intend to protect Israel inside Lebanon. So long as Israel remains inside Lebanon. So long as Israel remains inside Lebanon it can expect to be attacked."
Ronen commented: "Israel has no choice but to maintain a small security zone. We want a quiet border."
When asked if the assassinated Sheikh Musawi was a leader of the radical Hezbollah as the media stated, Abboud said the slain Shi'i leader had played a positive role in cooperating with the Lebanese army and that his murder has held up the deployment of U.N. and Lebanese troops in the area.
Ronen responded that Israel had secret information that Musawi planned the killing of U.S. Marine Col. Higgins, designed the attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. service personnel, and that Hezbollah is supported by Iran.
Many in the audience audibly gasped when, at one point, Ronen claimed Israel had improved the education system and opened universities for Palestinians.
When his turn came, Abboud stated: "It is Israeli policy to close Palestinian schools and arrest teachers. Palestinians have educations in spite of Israel."
The final question dealt with the possibility of Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank.
Ronen: "We're ready to open sincere negotiations. It is a big mistake to say what we're willing to give up."
Abboud: "Israel has already said it won't withdraw. It wants negotiations but sets preconditions that it will not give up one inch of land. Arabs wonder what on earth they are going to negotiate if it isn't about the future of their occupied lands."
Abboud topped even his own best lines at the end of the evening, however, when Ronen proposed a future public forum. Abboud cocked his head to one side, pondered silently, and then, with his eyes twinkling, stated: "Everything is open to negotiation."