JERUSALEM (Feb. 6)
Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s surprise secret meeting with Ivory Coast President Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Geneva Friday was viewed here as a timely diplomatic stroke that could have ramifications beyond Israel’s often stated desire to restore normal relations with Black Africa. The tone of the joint communique issued by the two leaders and the matters covered in their three-and-a-half hour meeting were cause for optimism even before the Premier briefed the Cabinet at its weekly session today.
They spoke of the need for a political solution of the Middle East conflict through negotiations, of the mutual interests of Israel and the African states and of the need to oppose Communist influence in Africa. Although the meeting was not expected to result in an immediate restoration of diplomatic ties, it could create a better atmos- phere in Israel-African relations in a year of crucial diplomatic tests.
Foreign Minister Yigal Allon told newsmen yesterday that “This was an important political achievement as far as our relations with Africa are concerned.” He added that Rabin’s trip “was part of an overall effort by Israel to resume the good relations she once had with Africa.”
Despite the fact that most Black African nations broke with Israel after the Yom Kippur War and have generally voted with the Arab bloc at the United Nations and other world forums, Israeli diplomats have kept contact with key African leaders, sometimes secretly. Allon met the Foreign Minister of Zaire in Geneva last year and conferred with African diplomats at the General Assembly last September. In November, Rabin had extensive talks with Senegal’s President Leopold Senghor at the Socialist International Conference in Geneva.
A significant factor in Rabin’s meeting with Houphouet-Boigny is that the latter has met recently with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a matter which, according to reports, was frankly discussed between them Friday. It was learned that the Geneva meeting was arranged at Houphouet-Boigny’s initiative and at his request was kept secret until it was over.
RETAINS FRIENDSHIP WITH ISRAEL
According to reports of their talks, the Ivory Coast President told Rabin “It hurts me that for political reasons which I could not ignore, I had to sever diplomatic relations with Israel. But I have remained loyal to our friendship with Israel.” Haaretz reported today that Houphouet-Boigny seemed convinced that the leaders of the Arab states are now ready to settle the Middle East conflict by political agreements that would exclude the PLO. But the Arab leaders are not ready at this time to say so bluntly to the PLO, Houphouet-Boigny reportedly said.
He reportedly told Rabin of his meetings with PLO people, including Dr. Issam Sartawi who impressed the African leader by his moderation. Rabin reportedly responded by telling Houphouet-Boigny of the role Sartawi played in an attack on an El Al plane in Munich eight years ago in which an Israeli actress, Hanna Maron, was seriously injured.
Houphouet-Boigny reportedly was interested in the Council for Israel-Palestine Peace headed by such prominent Israelis as Gen. (Res.) Matityahu (Matti) Peled, Arie Eliav and Uri Avneri. Rabin, who described Peled as “an old acquaintance,” is said to have told Houphouet-Boigny that his group represented only a fringe of the Israeli public. Rabin also reportedly told Houphouet-Boigny that Israel did not ignore the need to find a solution of the Palestinian problem but it could not agree to a Palestinian state and therefore sought a solution in the context of a peace agreement with Jordan.
NATURE OF JOINT COMMUNIQUE
The joint communique issued in Geneva said: “The President and the Premier exchanged views on the Mideast situation and the diplomatic efforts for peace in the region. They agreed that the best way to achieve peace in the region was by means of a dialogue on the basis on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. They also discussed the role of African countries in international affairs in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and frankness.”
The communique spoke in terms of dialogue without mentioning the Geneva conference or the Palestinian problem. While political circles here believe that the resumption of diplomatic relations between Israel and the African states will not take place until a Middle East settlement of some sort is reached, the Rabin-Houphouet-Boigny meeting represented a considerable-thawing of relations.
The African states are believed to be thoroughly disenchanted with the results of their entente with the Arab bloc, though they are not ready at this time to renew official ties with Israel without the agreement of the Third World.
REJECTS CHARGE OF POLITICKING
When Rabin returned from Geneva Friday night he did not talk to newsmen at the airport but went directly to Kibbutz Beeri in the Negev where he addressed the convention of the Kibbutz Hameuchad movement. This immediately gave rise to charges of politicking. When a reporter at the kibbutz asked if his Geneva trip was not an “exercise” in election politics, Rabin replied, “Nonesense.”
He added that “Israel has to continue to conduct its foreign policy as if it had a regular government in office for the next four years.” He told the kibbutz members that Israel had to make every possible effort to return to friendly relations with Africa. He said Israeli involvement in Africa should be based on moral values more-so than political considerations. “Votes at the UN are only a secondary matter,” he said.
It was learned that the Geneva meeting was arranged in top secrecy two weeks ago. The details were organized by Eli Mizrachi, manager of the Prime Minister’s Office, who flew to the Swiss city late last month. His absence was explained by illness.
Rabin informed Foreign Minister Allon of his pending trip last Monday and Defense Minister Shimon Peres on Tuesday. He told other Cabinet ministers later in the week. His trip was made with the approval of the Cabinet as required by law.