Dayan Defends Meeting with Outspoken Pro-plo Gaza Leader

Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan said today that he will continue to meet periodically with West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians of various political persuasions despite criticism of his meeting yesterday with an outspoken supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Explaining his 90-minute meeting with Dr. Haider Abdul-Shafi, chairman of the Gaza Red Crescent Society, Dayan said their conversation helped him to better understand the views held by Palestinian leaders in the administered territories. “I learned a lot I didn’t know before,” the Foreign Minister told reporters. It is not enough for “Jews to talk to each other, over cups of tea, about what the Palestinians are thinking, “Dayan observed.

Nevertheless, Dayan was careful to distinguish between talking and negotiating. He had not met with Abdul-Shafi to negotiate about the autonomy or about the normalization. Rather, they had had a general exchange of views on how Abdul-Shafi sees a future of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, Dayan explained.

The doctor, for his part, described the conversation as “academic and theoretical. Dayan is fond of exploring — even in a situation where there is no point to explore,” he told a reporter after the meeting. Abdul-Shafi said he had told the Foreign Minister that he wanted a Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza Strip and not initially linked to Jordan. He favored open borders between that state and Israel — once an agreement was reached with the PLO.

MEETING EVOKES MIXED REACTIONS

The news of Dayan’s meeting with the Gaza leader evoked mixed reactions in the political community. Several ministers seemed to have known in advance of the meeting and appeared to have approved it. But others had reservations.

Most outspoken was the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Moshe Arens of Herut, who accused Dayan of “shooting from the hip again — and in the wrong direction.” Arens deplored Dayan’s action, taken, he said, just when Israel was fighting desperately against growing Western recognition and contact with the PLO.

If Dayan’s reasoning was that Israel must know first hand what the various Palestinians were thinking, then by the same taken, Arens charged, there was nothing to stop Dayan meeting with PLO chief Yasir Arafat. Arens dismissed the supposed distinction between talking and negotiating.

Dayan, for his part, said today that Arens’ reaction came as no surprise to him. Nor of course, had he been surprised by any of the views expressed by Abdul-Shafi. The doctor had twice been exiled from the Gaza Strip for pro-PLO activities during Dayan’s term as Defense Minister.

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