Pro-Likud Kopp supports peace, predicts Peres win

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Independent state Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (S.F.-San Mateo) sits neither on the right nor left of the legislative aisle, but his position on Israel is a different matter.

Kopp, who returned last month from the fourth Conference for Jewish Ministers and Members of Parliament in Jerusalem, sides with his right-wing Israeli relatives.

"I'm pro-Likud. My mother's side of my family is Likud, my father's is non-rabid Labor," he says.

Yet Kopp's Likud leanings have not prevented him from backing the peace process initiated by the late Labor Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and his successor, Shimon Peres.

"I am satisfied with the peace process," Kopp says.

While on past visits to the Jewish state Kopp usually found his Israeli relatives politically divided, he discovered they all hope the peace process with Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Council will work.

"They're tired," he says of his relatives, who like many Israeli families have sent their sons to the army and lost some in wars.

"My sense is that most Israelis approve of the PLO peace process and the handling of the West Bank redeployment," he says.

Still, Kopp's "doubts remain" over the peace talks with Syria and the prospect of relinquishing the Golan Heights.

Some Israelis feel Peres was "precipitous and transmitted signs of abandonment of the Golan Heights, injudiciously so."

Still, Israelis "are at least willing to consider a Syrian peace treaty, which includes the disposition of the Golan Heights," he adds.

Kopp's support for Likud does not prevent him from making some seemingly impartial predictions when it comes to Israeli elections, which could be held as early as May if Peres calls for early voting.

"If an election were held today, the Labor government would secure at least a plurality, maybe a majority, in the Knesset," he says. "It would form a government either way."

While there may be some reservations about making peace with Syrian President Hafez Assad in exchange for a Golan pullout — hesitations that may be driving Peres to call for early elections before any treaty arises — Kopp says the Golan does not top the list of most Israelis' agendas.

What most Israelis are focusing on, he adds, is the fate of Jerusalem and its ultimate status if a Palestinian state is formed.

"It seems people are more concerned with Palestinian claims to parts of Jerusalem than with the Golan Heights," Kopp says.

"Between the two issues," of a Golan pullout and Jerusalem's future, "unqualified dominion over Jerusalem seems more of a concern."

In a move that may exacerbate those fears, the Jerusalem Post reported this week that the Palestinian Authority is compiling a data base of Palestinian claims to areas around Jerusalem, to use as a bargaining chip in final-status talks over Jerusalem.

Among the 40 state-level legislators who attended the conference (no members of Congress went because of the federal budget crisis), Kopp may have also been among the least to be moved by a meeting with a Palestinian candidate for Arafat's council in the autonomous zone of Jericho.

The candidate, whom Kopp could not identify, "sounded like a Palestinian [Likud leader Benjamin] Netanyahu," Kopp says. "He was glib, spoke idiomatic English — he snowed my Democratic colleagues. They were falling all over him."

Only after the meeting did the Jewish legislators learn that the Palestinian was among 40 candidates for the council from the fundamentalist terror group Hamas, Kopp recalls.

During the five-day conference, Kopp and the others did meet the real thing — Netanyahu — as well as Peres and Israeli President Ezer Weizman.

Netanyahu underlined the Likud Party platform of setting two conditions for peace with the PLO: a "demonstrated, sincere wish by Arafat" for peace, Kopp says, "not [stating] praise" for terrorists such as Yehiyah Ayash, a Hamas bomber believed killed by Israel.

Netanyahu also called for retaining the Golan but said the Likud would support giving the PLO some autonomous areas — which Kopp says one Israel Radio reporter called a "shift" in the Likud's position.

Kopp found Peres "persuasive" on the peace process, and "self-assured" about the challenges before him.

It was Weizman who issued a challenge that Kopp found he could not refuse — yet also could not meet. Weizman told a story about being asked what Israel could do to help American Jewish continuity. Weizman said he replied, "My continuity is Israel."

Responded Kopp: "I am part of the diaspora with no intention to make aliyah [immigrate]. If I were younger and hadn't carved a career and life in San Francisco, I would consider that [challenge] a recommendation from a wise elder. I can't dispute it intellectually."