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Rabin Repeats Cabinet Attack on Saunders’ Position Regarding the PLO

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Premier Yitzhak Rabin reiterated his Cabinet’s attack on the so-called “Saunders Papers” last night, only a day after unidentified top level government sources played down the matter and chided the press and public for over-reacting. Rabin, addressing students in Acre during a tour of Western Galilee, said the government rejected the document and was preparing a memorandum of protest to the U.S. government.

The document was the transcript of testimony given by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs Harold Saunders to a House International Affairs subcommittee last week which Israeli circles interpreted as a possible softening of the U.S. position on dealing with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Secretary of State Henry A, Kissinger and other State Department officials vigorously denied any change in U.S. policy toward the PLO, Kissinger told a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that if there ever was a change it would come only after “the fullest consultation with Israel.”

Top level government source were quoted here Tuesday as agreeing that Saunders’ statements represented no real change in U.S. policy toward the PLO and indicated that both Israel and the U.S. preferred not to dwell on the Palestine issue at this time. The inconsistency between that view and the Cabinet’s angry outburst against the Saunders testimony, repeated publicly by Rabin last night, has caused puzzlement among observers here.

BECOMING MAJOR POLITICAL ISSUE

Rabin told the Acre students that the Saunders testimony did not indicate a change of U.S. views on the PLO and added that “One should not be apprehensive regarding the document because in the present political situation, the key is in our hands.” The Premier did not elaborate on that remark. But it seemed clear that Rabin’s remarks, and probably the Cabinet’s reaction stemmed from domestic political considerations.

The Palestinian controversy is turning into a major political issue in Israel, particularly since the General Assembly’s overwhelming adoption of pro-PLO resolutions this month. The Rabin government is apparently trying to steer a careful course between firm rejection of any dealings with the PLO and recognition that a Palestinian problem does indeed exist and eventually will have to be solved.

Israel believes the solution can be found only in the framework of peace negotiations with Jordan and firmly rejects the idea of a Palestinian state between Jordan and Israel, Recent moves by Israeli authorities to offer Arabs on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip a large measure of administrative autonomy is viewed as the first step toward self-rule in those territories short of proclaiming a Palestinian state.

The matter was discussed at a closed forum is the Knesset this week, Rabin is known to have rejected a proposal by Likud MKs to lunch a world-wide propaganda drive to negate a separate Palestinian entity. He argued that to disregard the Palestinian problem would be “suicidal” in terms of propaganda, Rabin’s position represents a significant divergence from that of former Premier Golda Meir who insisted repeatedly during her tenure that a Palestinian people simply did not exist, Mrs. Meir was sharply criticized abroad and by some circles in Israel for those views.

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