Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

California Chronicle: Southern Californians Hear Face-Off between Israeli, Lebanese Consuls

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

California Chronicle: Southern Californians Hear Face-Off between Israeli, Lebanese Consuls

Article excerpt

California Chronicle: Southern Californians Hear Face-Off Between Israeli, Lebanese Consuls

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 southern 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 Arab 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. …

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