Henri Curiel, the PLO, and the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
The 1973 Arab-Israeli War also prompted political rethinking among the ranks of the PLO. Elements of a new approach to the conflict with Israel were expressed in articles in The Times after the 1973 war by Sa‘id Hammami, the PLO's representative in London, and in an interview Na’if Hawatma, the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, granted to the mass circulation Israeli daily Yedi‘ot Aharonot, on March 22, 1974. Although the Palestinian formulations were cautious and tentative, they hinted that a peaceful settlement of the dispute with Israel was possible on the basis of what came to be known as the “two-state solution”—Israeli evacuation from all the Arab territories occupied in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip alongside the state of Israel in its June 4, 1967, borders. In response to the circulation of such ideas among Palestinian political thinkers, the twelfth Palestine National Council meeting in June-July 1974 adopted a resolution in favor of establishing “the people's national, independent, and fighting authority on every part of Palestinian land to be liberated.”  This formulation was an ambiguous compromise that attempted to maintain unity within the PLO between proponents of the new thinking and adherents of the slogan “Revolution until Victory.” These trial balloons were ignored by the Israeli government. In the mid-1970s, only a small number of Jewish Israelis believed that an Israeli agreement with the PLO was an indispensable ingredient of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Most of them were in the orbit of the Communist Party (RAKAH), which represented the majority of Israel's Arab citizens, but only a few hundred Jews. As a largely Arab and non-Zionist political formation, RAKAH was outside the boundaries of Jewish politics in Israel. One of the few noncommunists who actively sought out the PLO was Uri Avnery.
Sa‘id Hammami's search for unofficial Israeli interlocutors after the Israeli government ignored his initiatives led him to meet with Uri Avnery in London in January 1975. Hammami hoped that if he identified representative Israelis who would engage in a dialogue with the PLO on the basis of the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it would be easier to win support for this approach within the PLO. As he had hinted to Avnery, on March 20, 1975, Hammami delivered a public speech in London titled “A Palestinian Strategy for Peaceful Coexistence: On the Future of Palestine” calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, mutual recognition, and a peace agreement between the two states. This was a major breakthrough in the evolution of Palestinian political thinking. Although Hammami did not abandon the ultimate ideal of a “democratic secular state,” in retrospect it is clear that his willingness to defer this goal to the indefinite future was the first step toward abandoning it altogether. Because there was no positive Israeli response to Hammami's signal of PLO moderation, few Arabs felt compelled to volunteer the concession of abandoning the vision of a democratic secular state until the PLO took this step in 1988.
Uri Avnery expected that such a significant public declaration by an authorized Palestinian spokesperson would compel a positive response from the Israeli government. But the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin utterly ignored and the mass media devoted little attention to Hammami's speech. Consequently, Avnery resolved to gather a small group of individuals who would be prepared to identify themselves as Zionists, unlike the communists whom Avnery detested and regarded as hopelessly unrepresentative, to promote a resolution to the conflict along the lines suggested by Hammami. Avnery believed that the PLO's commitment to the two-state solution would be deepened if a group of Zionist Israelis publicly supported it as well. Avnery and Yossi Amitai, a former Arab affairs activist in MAPAM who left the party when it established the electoral alignment with the Labor Party in 1969, drafted the founding manifesto of what came to be the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (ICIPP). Amos Kenan was abroad and had given Avnery a proxy to use his name for political purposes, so Kenan's name was added to the published statement without his having seen it. In February 1976, the ICIPP was expanded by the addition of Matti Peled, Me’ir Pa‘il, Lova Eliav, Ya‘akov Arnon, Eliyahu Eliashar, and David Shaham—prominent personalities formerly identified with the Labor Party. Pa‘il and Peled had served on the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the ultimate legitimation in Israeli politics. The reconstituted council published a new and somewhat watered-down manifesto endorsed by one hundred signatories. Hammami had promised Avnery that the PLO would begin a dialogue with a broad-based Israeli body that advocated establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The addition of defectors from the labor Zionist mainstream to the ICIPP—no prominent figures in the Labor Party were then willing to speak publicly with the PLO under any circumstances—meant that this dialogue could begin.
In May 1976, Rif‘at al-Sa‘id, a member of the recently reconstituted Communist Party of Egypt too young to have known Curiel in Egypt but closely identified with Curiel's most devoted followers within the communist movement, met with Yusuf Hazan and a Palestinian representative in Athens to discuss opening a PLO-Israeli dialogue. Yusuf Hazan was chosen to represent the Curielists because he was a relative of the wife of Abu Khalil, the PLO's representative in Dakar. In June, Henri Curiel called Daniel Amit, a professor of physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a peace activist associated with the Israeli New Left (SIAH) to a meeting in Yusuf Hazan's office attended by Curiel, Hazan, Joyce Blau, Raymond Stambouli, and Dr. ‘Isam Sartawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO. Sartawi asked to meet with representatives of the ICIPP, and Amit transmitted his request to Uri Avnery and Matti Peled.
On July 21, Matti Peled, Lova Eliav, Ya‘akov Arnon, and Yossi Amitai flew to Paris and met with ‘Isam Sartawi under the aegis of Henri Curiel and his friends. Curiel also arranged a meeting among Sartawi, the Israelis, and Pierre Mendès-France. Subsequently, Uri Avnery, Me’ir Pa’il, and the other members of the ICIPP Executive Committee also met with ‘Isam Sartawi and other PLO officials, including Abu Mazin, Abu Faysal, and Sabri Jiryis.
The Israelis involved in these encounters reported on them to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, elevating them to the status of indirect talks between the PLO and Israel. Nonetheless, Rabin continued to insist publicly that the PLO was not a partner for negotiations with Israel because negotiating with any Palestinian element would establish “a basis for the possibility of creating a third state between Israel and Jordan,” which Israel “firmly, clearly, categorically” opposed. The resignation of the Rabin government under a cloud of financial scandal on December 19, 1976, eliminated any possibility of an official Israeli response to the PLO's feelers.
Consequently, from December 1976 to May 1977, Henri Curiel and his friends organized a new round of meetings between representatives of the ICIPP and the PLO designed to enhance the prestige of the ICIPP. This objective required that the dialogue be made public, so on January 1, 1977, Curiel organized a press conference for Matti Peled and ‘Isam Sartawi in Paris, where the ongoing meetings of the two parties were acknowledged for the first time.
Sartawi's encounters with Zionist Israelis were sharply attacked by the hard-liners at the thirteenth session of the Palestine National Council in March 1977, where Yasir ‘Arafat publicly defended Sartawi, calling him “a great Palestinian patriot.”  However, the PNC's resolution on contacts with Israeli peace activists was vague. It affirmed “the significance of establishing relations and coordinating with the progressive and democratic Jewish forces inside and outside the occupied homeland, since those force are struggling against Zionism as a doctrine and practice.” 
This formulation seemed to disavow the talks between ‘Isam Sartawi and the members of the ICIPP organized by Henri Curiel because it suggested that contacts should be maintained only with non-Zionist Israelis. Although the relationship of some of its members to Zionism was rather attenuated, the ICIPP defined itself as a Zionist body. Uri Avnery and the members of the ICIPP were deeply offended by the rebuff. In contrast, Henri Curiel decided that the Palestine National Council resolution actually endorsed his efforts because, “through a remarkable piece of exegesis, Israelis who accepted Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state in these territories…were not to be considered Zionists.”  Curiel's analysis was overly optimistic but characteristic of the political acrobatics that enabled him to persist in the face of apparent failure.
The clear preference of the PLO for contacts with non-Zionist Israelis led to breaking off the official contacts between members of the ICIPP and the PLO. Any chance that they might be resumed was destroyed when the Likud came to power in the Israeli elections of May 17, 1977. Faced with an ideologically intransigent Israeli government, the PLO seemed to have little to gain from continuing contacts with Israelis if this only sharpened the differences within the PLO. On the Israeli side, Anwar al-Sadat's trip to Jerusalem in November 1977 diminished the importance of contacts with the PLO. As Egyptian-Israeli negotiations became the main act in the protracted and convoluted diplomatic performance designated as “the peace process,” the PLO focused its attention on trying to block the conclusion of a separate Egyptian-Israeli agreement that did not address the question of Palestine. As it turned out, this was exactly the character of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty signed in 1979.
Henri Curiel was assassinated in Paris on May 4, 1978, by unknown assailants. Suspicions focused on the Palestinian extremist Abu Nidal and right wingers in the camp of the former Algerian colons. But the French authorities never resolved the case. Sa‘id Hammami had been assassinated exactly four months earlier, possibly also by agents of Abu Nidal. Curiel's demise and the start of direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel brought an end to the role of Egyptian Jews as mediators in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The efforts of Curiel and others were not a great success. A failed Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 1982, the Palestinian intifada of 1987–91, and the devastation of Kuwait and Iraq in the Gulf War, which left the administration of President George Bush heavily indebted to several Arab states, were required to bring about the start of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in 1991 under far worse circumstances and with less likelihood of reaching a just and lasting peace than might have prevailed over a decade earlier. Nonetheless, Didar Rossano-Fawzy took great pleasure in noting that the handshake seen around the world between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir ‘Arafat on September 13, 1993, took place on the birthday of Henri Curiel.