- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

Israel's foreign minister last night told a gathering of Jewish Americans about his plan for peace with Palestinians.
"Even if there are more bombs we have to guarantee peace talks will continue," Shimon Peres told 3,000 people attending the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Mr. Peres said he had discussed his plan with Abu Ala, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament.
The first point of his plan requires Palestinian leaders to control all armed groups in Palestinian territory and end violence against Israelis, he said. Then, within eight weeks, there would be mutual recognition by Israel and the Palestinians of their right to separate states.
Mr. Peres proposed a year from now to negotiate the thorniest issues: refugees, settlements, Jerusalem and security.
Even while detailing his plans for peace, the foreign minister defended Israel's right to self-defense.
"When attacked, we shall defend ourselves," he said. "Otherwise we shall not stop seeking peace."
Even while some conservatives have criticized President Bush for sending mixed signals about Middle Eastern terrorism, many Jewish Americans attending yesterday's event praised the president and volunteered pledges of support for his 2004 re-election.
"I am very proud of what the president is doing for Israel, and I absolutely favor him for 2004," said Filna Welles of Plantation, Fla., who said she voted for Al Gore in 2000.
"I voted for Gore last time, but I would vote for Bush next time," said David Pogrund, a lawyer from Chicago.
Mark Silberstein, a La Jolla, Calif., manufacturer of baby and infant toys, said he understood the need to negotiate with the Palestinians.
"The two are not mutually exclusive. I don't think that if you favor [negotiating with Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat it means you don't support Israel," Mr. Silberstein said. "The president has been very supportive toward Israel. Everybody agrees Arafat supports terrorists but the reality on the ground is you have to deal with him."
Irwin Edelstein, also of Plantation, was one of the few people interviewed at the conference to say he had voted for Mr. Bush in 2000.
"The president is doing a very honorable job in the Middle East and I respect and admire him for it enormously," said Mr. Edelstein, who described himself as a political independent. "It takes a great deal of character and courage to do what he is doing and not just acquiesce to Arab oil policies but to stand up for what's right."
Iraq has said it will withhold sales of its petroleum to the United States because of U.S. support for Israel.
Linda Lingle, the Republican candidate for governor of Hawaii, who attended the conference, said Mr. Bush was doing well by Israel but also realized he "has to maintain some relations with the Arab nations."
She said that Mr. Bush's conservative critics "are just plain wrong. You'll find that Jews here at this conference from all over the country are very clear in their complete support of President Bush."
She said the conference was a "major change in how American Jews view the Republican Party and President Bush."

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