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Jews balk at church council's call for PLO inclusion in peace talks

The Nationa Council of Churches (ncc)is causing a stir in the Jewish community with a proposed policy statement -- now approaching final vote -- that calls for "acceptance by Israel of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] as a participant in the peace negotiations."

Although the same sentence also says the PLO's legislative body, the Palestine National Council, must recognize "Israel's right to exist as a sovereign state," the proposed statement has deeply disturbed many Jews.

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The NCC includes 32 Protestant and Orthodox Eastern churches with 40 million members.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a "white paper" addressed to church leaders arguing that "the PLO cannot have a role."

When the NCC governing board meets here Nov. 6-8, it wiil give the Middle East policy statement its second and -- if approved -- final reading. The statement will then serve as a basis for program initiatives, resolutions, and public comment by NCC officials.

Since the first reading last spring, the statement has undergone extensive revision and become more explicit in support of Palestinian rights.

The earlier version spoke only of the right of Palestinians to "select their own representatives" without mention of the PLO.

Other revisions include addition of a section on Jerusalem, saying its status should remain a subject for negotiations and of a statement that "unilateral actions in respect to such issues as settlement policy and land and water use in the occupied areas can only inflame attitudes, violate human rights, and reduce the prospect of achieving peace."

In part, the revisions grew out of a report by a task force headed by the NCC's first vice- president, Tracey Jones. Appointed in the wake of controversy over the resignation of US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, it brought top NCC leadership into the updating process of the existing 1969 policy statement.

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NCC Middle East secretary Richard Butler emphasized in a telephone interview, however, that the new statement dealt comprehensively with issues of peace, justice, and interreligious relations throughout the Middle East, whereas the earlier one dealt only with Arab-Israeli relations.

From the beginning of the policy revisions process, it has been evident that, while continuing to affirm Israel's right to "secure, defined, and recognized borders," the NCC was moving toward stronger support for Palestinian rights. This has exacerbated already strained NCC-Jewish relations.

The ADL in 1977 and the American Jewish Committee in 1979 issued study reports finding that the NCC was "anti-Israel."

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