PARIS (Jun. 28)
Diplomatic sources said today that secret negotiations are being held in Switzerland that could lead to a meeting between President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia and Premier Golda Meir of Israel during the next few months. The sources said the negotiations so far have run into very few obstacles and were supported by several factions in the Arab world.
(Political circles in Jerusalem today denied press reports quoting Tunisian Foreign Minister Mohammed Masmoudi to the effect that Switzerland is serving as a mediator In arranging meetings between Israeli and Tunisian on The circles also denied reports that Israel has received direct messages from Tunisia on this matter.)
The sources here said the major obstacles in the way of a Bourguiba-Meir meeting have come from Israel where many political factions hold firmly to a “no compromise” stand in relation to the Arab countries.
But there is a feeling in Arab circles that an increasing number of Israeli political groups are inclining toward the view that the future security of the Jewish state will require an accord with the Arab bloc nations to end the Middle East crisis, the sources said.
In an interview on West German television recently, Bourguiba said he was optimistic for the talks and he believed the Israeli people were now willing to enter into compromise negotiations.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Mohammed Masmoudi said in a recent interview that Tunisia had the support of the Palestinian Liberation Front, Egypt and other Arab states through their silence in connection with attempts to set up the summit meeting with Israel. He said their lack of comment should not be interpreted as a rejection of the plan but as acquiescence to the Tunisian initiative.
Masmoudi said the only objection from an Arab leader to the proposed meeting came from Libyan Col. Muamar Qaddafi who, he said, told Tunisia, “It won’t get you anywhere. You risk being misunderstood. We won’t agree, but we will not interfere.” The Foreign Minister said he told Qaddafi that Tunisia would move ahead with the plan even without the blessing of the Libyan leader.
Diplomats said the Tunisian attitude was that the position of the Arab world in the Middle East crisis was already misunderstood by Israel and no further harm could come from the talks, if they develop. The attitude of the Arab world toward Tunisia now contrasts markedly compared to 1965 when Bourguiba suggested recognition of Israel as a possible solution to the Middle East crisis. Masmoudi said Tunisia would like to use the 1947 United Nations Palestine partition plan for a starting point in talks with Israel. But once the talks started, “the question of frontiers could be modified,” the Foreign Minister said.
He said Tunisia favored the 1947 boundaries because they were the last set by a political process and not through military victories. A meeting between an Israeli head of state and an Arab leader would be unprecedented in the 25-year history of the Israeli state, and diplomatic observers said it could lead the way to future peaceful settlements of disagreements between the two sides and an end to a threat of military action.