Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh: Local Jewish Leaders Optimistic Yet Critical of Summit
ZOA in the news
December 6, 2007

By Susan Jacobs, Toby Tabachnick
and Angela Leibowicz
Chronicle Staff

Despite much skepticism from Jews in Israel and the United States that the Annapolis process will fail, local Jewish leaders were surprisingly upbeat about last week’s conference.

Some noted the presence of several Arab leaders. Others were happy President Bush is taking a more active role.

But they also wondered if Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is strong enough to make peace and whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is truly committed to stopping terrorism.

Ivan Novick, the president of the American Zionist Movement in Pittsburgh, is “cautiously optimistic” about the Annapolis conference, calling the summit, “the beginning of a process, the beginning of other meetings.”

Although the agenda for the conference was “less substantive” than previous peace summits, Novick said the participation of so many Arab states – including some that have not attended previous conferences – is a good sign for Israel, as is the involvement of President Bush.

While many have criticized Bush for having his subordinates handle diplomatic relations between Israelis and Palestinians, Novick called him “the most steadfast friend that Israel has had.”

“I believe the administration feels this is the beginning of a process that will move in a positive way,” he said.

He added that many Israelis are ready to deal with the peace process, even if concessions are involved.

“I feel there might be a quiet desperation among the Israelis to see something happen,” he said. “They want to get on with their lives.”

Deborah Fidel, the president of the Pittsburgh District of the Zionist Organization of America, believes that the Annapolis conference had good and bad outcomes for Israel.

“President Bush insisted in his speech that Palestinian Arabs and Arab states explicitly need to accept Israel as a Jewish state,” she said. “Even though he called Mahmoud Abbas and the P.A. moderate, he conceded that neither he nor the P.A. have fulfilled their previously signed agreements.”

On the down side, Fidel said the conference perpetuated the idea of moral equivalence between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“The whole structure trivialized the very real and pressing issue of Palestinian terrorism and incitement to murder by suggesting that both sides have been guilty of it,” she said. “We dispute that falsity.”

It is also troubling, Fidel said, that Israel has agreed to allow the United States to oversee Israel’s progress toward attaining the goals of the peace process. She described that development as “a major erosion of Israeli sovereignty and national security.”

Fidel was also disappointed that Mahmoud Abbas did not take a stronger stand against terrorism.

“Abbas in his speech said absolutely nothing,” she said. “He did not condemn terrorism as a moral crime in even the smallest way. It doesn’t seem that he is truly serious about making peace with Israel as a Jewish state.”

Some leaders of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community were optimistic that the Annapolis summit may lead to peace.

“We’re delighted that people are finally talking,” said Lisa Steindel, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “We are hopeful that a true and honest conversation can lead to a lasting peace.”

Norma Kirkell Sobel was less optimistic. The co-president of NA’AMAT USA, Pittsburgh Council and president of Jewish National Fund, said that dialgoue is good, but she was skeptical about what may happen next.

“I think there is so much animosity,” she said. “I don’t think Abbas has the strength to control Hamas.”

Jerusalem should remain united under Israeli control, she added.

“If the Palestinians want their own state, that’s fine,” she said, “but Jerusalem can never be their capital.”

Others were hesitant to speculate as to where the talks may lead. “I’m holding my breath and hoping for the best,” said Eva Vogel, president of PNAI (Parents of North American Israelis.)

Pinchas Sofayov, a Mt. Lebanon resident originally from Israel, has his doubts; he suspects that the Annapolis meeting is politically “just for show.”

Even if an agreement is reached, he said, “in the future, I doubt it will hold. We can make peace with one Palestinian group, and another one will attack us. The bottom line is I don’t think that can work. I don’t have faith in it.”

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