JERUSALEM (Dec. 22)
A meeting today between President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat in Cairo has created bitter feelings in Israel. An official statement, issued by the Foreign Ministry while the meeting in Cairo was still in progress, said:
“The reception accorded today in Cairo to the head of the murderous PLO is a severe blow to the peace process in the Middle East. The existence and activities of the PLO contradict peace and jeopardize every attempt and possibility to further it. The ultimate disappearance of this organization from the international scene is a prerequisite for the achievement of stability and peace in the region.”
Israeli sources said that Premier Yitzhak Shamir was extremely angry about the meeting. Conferring with visiting Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy, Shamir recalled that Arafat and his men “danced in the streets of Beirut” upon receiving the news of President Anwar Sadat’s assassination.
REASONS FOR THE MEETING CITED
Well placed Israeli observers saw Cairo’s warm reception of Arafat as an attempt by Egypt to win sway over the loyalist wing of the PLO, as a counter to Syria’s control of the PLO rebels under Col. Abu Mussa. In addition, these observers said, the welcome extended to Arafat serves Egypt well in its ongoing efforts to rebuild bridges to the Arab world.
It was also noted that Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali of Egypt, in his meetings yesterday with President Reagan and on Tuesday with Secretary of State George Shultz in Washington, said that Egypt has sought to convince the PLO to give Jordan the authority it feels necessary to enter the peace negotiations.
Ali indicated that a new opportunity exists with the evacuation of Arafat and his forces from Tripoli in northern Lebanon on Tuesday. He said that this could increase chances that King Hussein of Jordan and the Palestinians would accept Reagan’s September, 1982 Mideast peace initiative. The Egyptian Foreign Minister argued that Arafat continues to be the most popular leader among the Palestinians.
Arafat himself was quoted as saying shortly before embarking from Tripoli that the time was now at hand for him to resume his dialogue with Hussein. The dialogue was broken off in the spring of 1983 when the PLO refused to give the Jordanian monarch the go-ahead to negotiate with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians in the framework of the Reagan plan.
Government officials in Jerusalem said today that they “regretfully do not see any possibility” of Arafat changing his basic position, a commitment to the destruction of Israel. They stressed that this has been the PLO’s position since its inception.
They pointed out that the Foreign Ministry’s statement which looked forward to the “ultimate disappearance of the PLO from the international scene” as a prerequisite for peace was not intended to mark a change or a hardening of Israel’s stance. Israel was still prepared any time to negotiate with any Arab state, the officials said.
They pointed out that the statement “merely expressed our assessment of the PLO.” They noted that West Bank Palestinians had been terrorized by the PLO into shunning political talks with Israel, and the Arab states also, even the wealthier among them, had been terrorized. That is why Israel regarded the PLO as the key obstacle to peace, the officials said.
They refused to enter into the “hypothetical” question of how Israel would respond if Arafat now became involved, with Egypt and Jordan, in a new Mideast diplomatic initiative linked to the Reagan plan.
TENSIONS EXPECTED TO EXACERBATE
Meanwhile, political analysts here expected that Arafat’s visit to Cairo would exacerbate tensions within the Israeli government over the wisdom of the policy that called for relentless sea-air pounding of PLO positions in Tripoli coupled with tough rhetoric about punishing the terrorists but which, in the end, allowed Arafat and his loyalists to depart unscathed with at least a portion of their weapons.
Sharp questions about this policy were raised in the Knesset yesterday and the press was highly critical as well. Last night, in a public appearance at the Hebrew University, Minister Without Portfolio Ariel Sharon again insisted that Israel should have prevented Arafat from being rescued by foreign ships under the protection of the United Nations flag.
Sharon said he never advocated attacking ships of friendly nations, but Israel should have taken action so that the rescue-by-ship stage was never reached. Arafat and his men left Tripoli on five chartered Greek car ferries escorted by French naval vessels to safe havens in North Africa and North Yemen.