Labor’s Leaders Lobby for U.S. Support, Funds

Two leaders of Israel’s opposition Labor Party were in Los Angeles last week on separate visits and voiced sharp criticism of the current government’s peace policy, and support for a strong role by the United States in the stalled negotiations.

First came Yossi Beilin, a Knesset member and one of the chief architects of the Oslo accords. He lashed out at AIPAC and some institutional Jewish leaders for lobbying Congress and the Clinton administration to downgrade the United States’ role in the peace process.

“I would ask the American-Jewish community to encourage the United States to help us solve our peace problems,” Beilin said. “Without Washington’s involvement, the peace process will not go forward — there is now too much mistrust on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.”

Ehud Barak, head of the Labor Party, addressing a meeting of the World Affairs Council and in a private interview, struck a similar note.

“If and when, and I emphasize if and when, current negotiations on a further Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank fail, I expect America not to pretend that the process was still continuing,” said Barak. “I expect the Americans to issue a report which will lay out the truth of what was on the table and how both sides reacted.”

Barak also charged the Netanyahu administration with “two years of foot-dragging [on the peace process], which has left Israel more and more isolated on the international scene.”

The former army chief of staff laid out Labor’s basic terms for a final settlement with the Palestinians. These would include a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, no return to the 1967 borders, no advanced weaponry in the Palestinian area, and the concentration of most West Bank settlers in “a few large blocks” under Israeli control.

Both men, not surprisingly, predicted a comeback for the Labor Party in the 2000 election.

Beilin said that Netanyahu had alienated much of the electorate center, which had hoped that he would play the same role vis-à-vis the Palestinians as President Nixon had in his China policy, while the far right had looked for an outright end to the Oslo process and was now disenchanted.

Barak predicted that 30 percent to 40 percent of Russian immigrants, a majority of whom had voted for their own party under Natan Sharansky in 1996, would vote for Labor in the next election.

In the time-honored tradition of all Israeli politicians visiting Los Angeles, both Beilin and Barak held extensive private meetings with affluent members of the Jewish community to raise funds for their party coffers.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that one of Barak’s major goals in visiting Los Angeles and other cities was to re-establish an effective support and fund-raising organization for the Labor Party in the United States, to parallel the existing Likud USA organization.