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Burg Rebuked for Saying That Israel Might Talk to the PLO

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Interior Minister Yosef Burg was sharply censured by some of his Cabinet colleagues today for having hinted, in recent public statements, that Israel might, some day, under certain circumstances, talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization if the latter abandoned its covenant aimed at Israel’s destruction and desisted from terrorist activities.

In what was seen as a direct rebuke to Burg, who heads the Israeli negotiating team in the autonomy talks with Egypt, the Cabinet reaffirmed today Israel’s longstanding policy that it will never negotiate with the PLO under any circumstances.

Burg, a leader of the National Religious Party, received what he himself described to reporters as a “cold shower” at today’s Cabinet session. He was taken to task for remarks he made during the last 10 days, first in London where he attended a meeting on Palestinian autonomy with Egyptian Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil and U.S. special Ambassador to the Middle East Robert Strauss, and later to reporters when he landed at Ben Gurion Airport last week.

He said in London if the PLO were to change sections of its. “Palestine covenant” and refrain from terrorism for two of three years, “that change would require a change on our part.” He was more explicit at the airport, saying outright that in the event of such changes, Israel would consider negotiating with the PLO. Housing Minister David Levy of Herut, expressed the reactions of a number of other ministers to what they considered Burg’s departure from Israel’s declared policy.

“As leader of Israel’s negotiating team, Dr. Burg cannot say things which are contrary to the declared government policy,” Levy said. “I am happy that the Cabinet today reiterated its position that there can be no negotiations with the PLO and happy too that Premier (Menachem) Begin made the same point in his summation of the Cabinet discussion.

DEALT WITH THEORETICAL SITUATION

Burg, who is 70 and a veteran of many political battles, seemed pensive but unchastened by the upbraiding he received from his colleagues. “People pounced on me like vultures…to make political capital for themselves,” he said. He added, however, “It doesn’t matter. Cabinet policy is clear.” Asked if he thought his statements contravened Cabinet policy, Burg observed that he had been dealing with a “theoretical situation” while Cabinet policy dealt with “the here and now.”

Political observers recalled that in the first round of the autonomy talks in Beersheba last April, Burg omitted the word “never” from a paragraph on the PLO in his opening statement. The prepared text stated that “Israel will never negotiate” with the PLO. Burg, in his delivery, substituted, “not” for “never.” The U.S. delegation, headed by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, took note of that amendment and brought it to the attention of the White House.

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