JERUSALEM (Aug. 30)
Premier Menachem Begin returned today from his five-day official visit to Rumania which he called “important, interesting and exciting.” He said that Rumanian Premier Manea Manescu has accepted an invitation to visit Israel, the first by a Rumanian Premier.
“Without even trying to play down our differences over the question of a Middle East peace, we agreed that they must not affect our very close relations and friendship,” Begin said. He said he tried to convince the Rumanian leaders that the Likud government wanted peace as much as the previous Labor governments.
Begin said the joint communique signed by the two countries at the end of the visit stressed that Israel and Rumania will continue their close relationship despite their differences on the Middle East and will encourage all efforts to achieve an end to the Mideast conflict.
SPELLING OUT THE RELATIONS
The communique which recognized the differences between the two countries added: “The differences of opinion in this respect must not bear on the friendly relations between the two peoples.” The question of whether to use the term “friendly relations” or “standing relations” involved some arguing between the two countries, according to Israeli reports from Rumania. When Premier Golda Meir visited Rumania in 1972 relations were described only as “normal.”
The Rumanians at first wanted to use the term “existing relations.” But when Begin and President Nicolae Ceausescu went for a cruise on Lake Snagov yesterday they agreed on “friendly relations.” However, when the communique was being worked out, the Rumanians again wanted to use “normal relations,” but the Israelis insisted on the wording agreed upon by Begin and Ceausescu. The Rumanians then insisted that “friendly relations” describe what existed between “the two peoples” rather than “between the two countries.”
MAJOR DIFFERENCE THAT EMERGED
The major difference that emerged during the Begin visit was Rumania’s insistence that the Palestine Liberation Organization be included in Middle East negotiations and the Israeli rejection of the PLO as a negotiating partner. The Rumanians used every opportunity to stress their belief that the PLO was basically a moderate group and that the Israelis could talk to Yasir Arafat.
Israeli correspondents reported that when Ceausescu suggested to Begin that he should meet with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Arafat, the Israeli Premier responded “with Sadat, with all due respect; but with Arafat, under no conditions.”
The Israeli press reported today that a senior Rumanian official said that Rumania believes that the Arab states are not ready for the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and only want to use the PLO for their purposes. The official was seen as making this comment to indicate that Israel had nothing to lose by talking to the PLO.
The PLO was the main subject in the last meeting between Begin and Ceausescu which took place yesterday. The conversation on the terrace of Ceausescu’s cottage outside Bucharest, followed by a cruise on Lake Snagov and a walk to a nearby monastery, took some five-and-a-half hours–much longer than expected for this second session between the two leaders.
Summing up the visit, Begin said last night that he had raised the subject of speeding family reunions in his talks with the Rumanians. He did not elaborate. A sense of cautious optimism was reported among some Israeli officials on this subject today. It was based on the sympathetic attitude with which the Rumanians had discussed the question.
Before going to Rumania, Begin had announced publicly that he would ask for all restrictions of family reunion to be lifted. He noted that most Rumanian Jews have close relatives in Israel.