VIENNA (Nov. 25)
Bruno Kreisky said here that neither his relinquishing of the Chancellorship of Austria nor the murder last year of Issam Sartawi, who was considered a leading moderate in the PLO, has altered his position on the Middle East in general and the PLO in particular.
Sartawi was shot to death at an international Socialist conference in Albufeira, Portugal, where he had come to advocate a dialogue between Arabs and Israelis. A Palestinian group led by Abu Nidal, an extremist who broke away from the PLO on grounds that it was too conservative, issued a statement in Damascus claiming responsibility for the assassination.
Kreisky, whose words and actions during his term of office in support of the PLO often caused considerable controversy and constemation, especially among Jews around the world — including the Vienna Jewish community — and in Israeli government circles, expressed his ideas about the Mideast and the PLO in a meeting in his home last week with a group of Jewish journalists.
They were in Vienna covering the photographic exhibit, film festival and academic symposium under the rubric of “The Vanished World” of European Jewry destroyed in the Holocaust.
This series of events was initiated and coordinated by Dr. Leon Zelman, executive director of the Jewish Welcome Service (JWS) of the City of Vienna. The JWS organized the three “Vanished World” events with the support of the government of Austria; the World Jewish Congress and its research division, the Institute for Jewish Affairs in London; and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.
REASONS FOR UNCHANGED VIEWS
In his interview with the Jewish journalists, Kreisky stated, “Why should I modify my position on the Mideast if nearly all the European democratic governments accept my view and when (President) Reagan found out that the Palestinian problem should be solved?” the 73-year-old former Chancellor asked. Nor has the murder of Sartawi — whom Kreisky described as “one of my closet friends” — changed his views favoring a Palestinian state and regarding the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.
The reason Sartawi’s murder did not alter his views, Kreisky said, is that he did not share the view Sartawi held in the last months of his life, which was to get a declaration from the PLO that it is ready to recognize Israel.
Kreisky told the journalists he had opposed this idea because Israel’s Labor Party leader Shimon Peres had said he was “not interested at all” in such a declaration. The PLO, Kreisky continued, did not accept Sartawi’s idea because of Yasir Arafat’s position that recognition of Israel is the PLO’s trump card, a position Arafat was willing to give up if Israel recognized the PLO.
Kreisky did, however, tell the journalists that he had accused Arafat of being “guilty to a certain extent” of Sartawi’s murder because his refusal to allow Sartawi to speak in favor of his idea of a proclamation recognizing Israel at the PLO National Assembly in Tunisia last year “gave the sign to Abu Nidal” that Sartawi could be killed with impunity.
While acknowledging that Arafat does not represent all the currents among the PLO, Kreisky expressed the belief that he represents an overwhelming majority of the groups in the overall organization, although some “very tough” groups oppose him.
The former Chancellor also said he accepted the claim of the former mayor of the West Bank town of Halhul, Mohammed Milhelm, who told him recently in Zurich that “we in the West Bank are behind Arafat.” The PLO, he concluded, “undoubtedly does represent the Palestinians as far as a big majority is concerned.”
Kreisky emphatically denied that he is an enemy of Israel or of the people of Israel because what “I recognize is that the Jews are a people insofar as they live in Israel. As for Jews outside Israel, if they want to be a people, I am not opposed to that. But I am not sure Jewry can be declared a people a priori.” He said he difined Jews as a “community of destiny” whose destinies are different, depending on the course of history of the countries they live in.
Dismissing charges of “Jewish self-hate” that have been lodged against him over the years, Kreisky said he has “never refused to be a Jew.” He said he plans to attend “in a demonstrative way” the Vanished World exhibit — which has already had 20,000 visitors in its first week of showing here — to “show I am in favor of it.”
He described himself as coming from “a very assimilated family — this is my way of living” but had never denied being of Jewish extraction. This was, he felt, an “important part of my personality structure” and had contributed to his successful career.
Kreisky expressed pride in what Austria had done to help Soviet Jewish emigrants and his role in it. He said that “if I were a religious man wanting to enter heaven, I’d give as one reason” for admittance the fact that 300,000 Jews left the Soviet Union and passed through Austria on their way to Israel and to other countries with its protections, and that “not a single life was lost.”