Levy emphasizes peace obstacles in lengthy N.Y. visit

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

NEW YORK — Despite a new burst of energy in Middle East peace efforts, Israel's foreign minister came to town with a warning for the world.

"The language of peace will have no meaning if it remains on paper alone," Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said here last week during a visit coinciding with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

"Peace is not a code word. Peace must become a reality. It is not enough to talk about peace," said Levy, who was engaged in a flurry of diplomacy, including a discussion with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and an unprecedented meeting with Arab officials from countries who do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

After his arrival in New York on Sept. 22, Levy met with leaders from around the world — reiterating Israel's commitment to peace with the Palestinians, as well as with Syria and Lebanon. He was planning to stay in the United States at least through yesterday.

Levy also used especially strong language to articulate Israel's uncompromising stance on principles essential to its internal and external security.

His strong words contrasted sharply with the message Prime Minister Ehud Barak brought to America in July. While Israel's new leader stressed his hopes for peace, Levy emphasized the obstacles.

It is not clear whether the change in tone was a reflection of the developments in the last few months, or whether Levy's tough message was intended for those gathered at the United Nations.

In a speech Wednesday before the 188-member General Assembly, Levy called for an end to what he describes as "dualism," in which nations pursue peace with Israel on one hand, while on the other engage in hostile rhetoric and intimidation against Israel.

Speaking to Jewish groups in the days leading up to his U.N. address, Levy offered his own explanation for the change in tone.

"Barak started out with great optimism, great enthusiasm," Levy said last Friday afternoon at a meeting of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress.

"But optimism and enthusiasm must sometimes make room for realism."

Speaking Monday evening to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Levy said that he made clear to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in their meeting that morning the obstacles Israel sees as standing in the way of achieving the ambitious timetables envisioned for peace in the Middle East:

*The Palestinians' continued "diplomatic war against Israel." Levy characterized Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Sept. 23 address to the U.N. General Assembly as "putting forth extremist positions which are unsuitable to direct negotiations and the spirit of peace."

During his speech, Arafat, while expressing hope that negotiations would move forward, called on U.N. members to support "the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital" and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Moreover, Levy said, the fact that a slate of yearly "anti-Israel" resolutions will again go before the General Assembly "hints to the fact that we have a different concept of what peace is."

*Arab League actions, which work against success in peace negotiations. Levy said the nations in the Arab League "continue their intimidation against Israel normalizing relations with other countries."

*Multilateral peace talks being "held hostage." He criticized Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa for suggesting that Arab countries would not resume multilateral talks on issues such as disarmament, water, environment and economic cooperation — begun in 1992 and suspended in 1996 — until Israel reopened negotiations with Syria and Lebanon.

"On these three issues, we will not give in," Levy said, adding that he made clear to Albright that the United States must demand compliance of "the other side."

Closer relations between "the PLO and the U.S.," he said, obligate America to make sure the Palestinians fulfill their promises to "stop incitement against Israel in international arenas."

In his meetings and briefings over the past week, Levy outlined the four principles on which Barak's government — any viable Israeli government, he said — would not compromise. He stressed:

*Jerusalem, undivided, will forever be the capital of Israel.

*Israel will never return to the pre-1967 borders.

*Large settlement blocs will be remain under Israeli sovereignty.

*No foreign army will ever cross the Jordan River.

"Some have called them four negative aspects," Levy said of the points he outlined.

"But they are the four pillars of peace from our perspective," he said, adding that they are the minimum requirements for Israel in negotiations. "That is our policy, it is no secret."

Meanwhile, American Jewish groups — including the AJCommittee, B'nai B'rith International, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, the AJCongress and the Presidents Conference — made the rounds of diplomatic missions at the United Nations to garner increased international support for Israel and for global Jewish concerns.

One of the issues topping their agenda — and a major issue for Israel's outgoing Ambassador Dore Gold — is obtaining membership for Israel in a regional group, a prerequisite for membership on important committees at the United Nations, including the Security Council.

Israel is the only U.N. member-state excluded from membership in any regional group.

David Harris, the executive director of the AJCommittee, said his group has been "slightly encouraged" this year by the work of the United States in helping Israel gain entry into the Western Europe and Others Group.

He said he learned from American and European sources that Albright had discussed the issue with the European Union last week, and he has found in his own meetings with E.U. members that there was more support for the issue than last year.