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State Department Not Giving Too Much Credibility to PLO Statement on Recognizing Israel

The State Department appeared today not to be giving too much credibility to a statement by a Palestine Liberation Organization official in Paris that the PLO is ready to recognize Israel on a “reciprocal basis.” Department spokesman Dean Fischer said the U.S. has not received any confirmation out of PLO headquarters in west Beirut in support of the statement by Issam Sartawi, an adviser to PLO chief Yasir Arafat. Asked specifically about Sartawi’s statement, in a speech before the French Institute of International Relations, Fischer said: “The position of the U.S. government on negotiations with the PLO remains as we have stated before.” The U.S. has refused to negotiate with the PLO until it recognizes Israel’s right to exist and accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Sartawi, speaking in Paris, said the PLO “has formally conceded to Israel in the most unequivocal manner, the right to exist on a reciprocal basis” and urged the U.S. to deal directly with the PLO: In the negotiations presently being conducted in Beirut by Philip Habib, the U.S. special envoy speaks only to Lebanese officials, some of whom then negotiate with the PLO.

SHULTZ HAS LITTLE FAITH

Secretary of State-designate George Shultz, during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, also said he had little faith in statements coming from PLO officials. But just before the Committee voted unanimously to recommend the confirmation of Shultz, its chairman, Sen. Charles Percy (R. Ill.), said he had received a report from a “neutral source” that the PLO was ready to recognize Israel.

At a meeting of the Committee today, however, Sen. John Glenn (D. Ohio) said it should be up to Israel, not the U.S., to see if Sartawi’s statement was now the PLO policy. He suggested that Premier Menachem Begin study the statement closely to see if the PLO really means what one PLO official is saying.

AVNERY AIRS HIS VIEWS

Meanwhile, at a press conference at the National Press Club here today, Uri Avnery, an Israeli journalist and leader of the opposition Sheli faction, said Sartawi repeated his statement at a joint press conference in London yesterday with himself and Israeli Gen. (ret.) Mattityahu Peled, another leader of Sheli.

Avnery, who interviewed Arafat in west Beirut earlier this month, said Arafat had made similar statements at the time. He said Sartawi and Arafat both cited as evidence PLO support for a statement by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev last year calling for Middle East peace with security for all nations, including Israel.

Avnery said that even more important than what Arafat said in the interview, the first he ever granted an Israeli, was that it was held at all. He noted that he and other Israelis had been meeting with PLO officials for the last eight years but when those meetings became public, the PLO always denied they had taken place. This time, however, according to Avnery, it was the PLO itself which first made public his interview with Arafat. The PLO has not repudiated Sartawi’s statement, Avnery added.

The Israeli journalist said the “Soviet Union has miserably betrayed the Palestinian people” in the present situation which he called a war between Israel and the Palestinians. He said both Israel and the U.S. should use the situation now to “start a real, actual dialogue with the PLO.” He said Israel cannot choose the leaders of the Palestinian people which, he claimed, is clearly the PLO.

The Avnery press conference was sponsored by the America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, a recently formed group supporting the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian peace headed by Avnery and Peled.

PLO STATEMENT CALLED ‘NOT SUFFICIENT’

Meanwhile, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting today, former National Security Advisor Richard Allen said Sartawi’s statement is “not sufficient” for the U.S. to change its policy. But if other statements are issued, the U.S. should consider talking to the PLO about recognition, though only after consultation with Israel, Allen said.

Former Undersecretary of State George Ball told the Committee today that the demand for PLO recognition of Israel was a “false issue.” He said the PLO had no reason to recognize Israel since the Israeli government refuses to give the Palestinian people anything. He said the autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip proposed by the Israeli government was “very little different from apartheid.”

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