Last year, Wyckoff resident Richard Gordon then newly elected president of the American Jewish Congress met with Salam Fayad, then newly appointed prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, to discuss issues of common concern. Recently, the two men met again.
Gordon was in Israel as part of President Bush’s special delegation to Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations. "It was a tremendous honor," he said. "I’m pleased for the organization. It’s a nice recognition of the work we’re doing."
AJCongress president Richard Gordon meets with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad in Ramallah last month.
The AJCongress president noted that his purpose in meeting with Fayad was to discuss the Palestinian leader’s efforts to establish security control in the west bank and to spur economic development. Pointing out that they had met "when we were both new in our jobs," he said "it was fascinating to meet him a year later. He remembered what we had discussed last year."
Gordon, who attended the meeting together with Danny Grossman, AJCongress Israel director, and Matthew Horn, the organization’s national policy director, noted that Fayad is an economist, trained at the University of Texas.
Calling him a "charming, lovely man," Gordon said that "the meeting was close to two hours. It wasn’t a photo op, it was more like an update. He was generous, open with his time. He has grown in his role."
Over the past year, Fayad "has developed more street smarts," said Gordon. While last year the Palestinian leader simply reported on developments, "this time he provided information with the understanding of what he wanted me to do with that information."
On the issue of Israel’s security, "I wasn’t shy in the meeting," said Gordon. "I said that what’s going on in Gaza and Sderot is a disgrace and has to stop." He pointed out that AJCongress has been very active on the ‘human shields’ issue," lobbying the House of Representatives to pass a resolution condemning the use of civilians as human shields in warfare. "We are now talking to a number of senators about raising it in the Senate," he went on, and raised it in meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Gordon and Fayad also discussed economic issues. "We discussed sanctions and the question of whether you gain more by being tough or more open-handed," said Gordon, adding that the two agreed that "you must show people that they don’t need Hamas, and they’ll turn away from them."
"Things like stopping the flow of electricity makes [them] more hard-line," he said. "You need to show them a better life. That’s the basic message."
"I believe that economic development is the way to peace in the west bank," he said, adding that he believes that Israel is trying to help the Palestinians economically. "They’ve got a desire to help, but no investor wants to invest in an unstable area."
Gordon said Fayad acknowledged that there are areas even he won’t travel in the west bank, but added that the Palestinian reported that his government is making progress in getting guns off the streets and decreasing the power of militias.
"The clear message I took away from the meeting is that this is the time" to make peace, said Gordon. "If we can’t solve it now, the opportunity may slip away and we will have to wait another ‘5 years. It’s a great time for the U.S. to help both sides to bridge the gap and bring a lasting peace. We all need it badly."
Gordon added that while we don’t see the total picture which includes economic, cultural, and scientific exchanges some Israelis and Palestinians "are working feverishly toward a two-state solution." On the other hand, he noted, "most Israelis feel that a three-state solution [including Hamas] is unworkable," providing no incentive for Gaza to be anything but a terrorist nation.
Gordon said the AJCongress position is "to try to be supportive of the Israeli government’s position." He noted that he had spoken with Olmert to convey his organization’s support for a unified Jerusalem but said that "we understand that the Israeli government must negotiate."
Pointing out that Olmert has a good relationship with Fayad because the two leaders had both been finance ministers, Gordon said "Olmert is a strong believer in the peace process."
Noting the political problems faced by the prime minister and the possibility of his indictment on charges of corruption, Gordon said, "I hope it won’t come to that . Any change in leadership in a country slows things down." However, he added, given the country’s electoral system, "there will be continuity, with the same people leading the charge."
Gordon said that separate and apart from meetings he attended as part of the Bush delegation, he took part in President Shimon Peres’ summit meeting on Israel’s future, "focusing on issues such as energy policy, the growth of the Orthodox population, and the use of human shields in warfare." In fact, he said, "the great bulk of my time there was spent in these meetings," which were attended by such world leaders as Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev. "It was pretty amazing," he said.
The AJCongress leader also took part in several meetings relating to Israel’s relationship with NATO. Gordon said his organization "is the sole American NGO helping Israel" in this area. "Israel is interested in upgrading its relationship with NATO as a partner for peace," said Gordon, pointing out that the Jewish state "is Western in many ways."
When he visited Sderot during his trip, Gordon said, "It was tragic to see a child sleeping next to a washing machine," which shared space in the bomb shelter. "People don’t understand [that] pure terrorism is intended to scare people." His group is helping to fund shelters, he said, adding that AJCongress is also helping to fund a medical center in Ashdod.
Gordon said he "came back heartened by where we are. Except for those parties bent on destruction, there is a confluence of people who truly want to bring peace to the region, some at great peril to themselves."