JERUSALEM (Aug. 21)
Israeli officials expressed the hope this week that the meeting in Helsinki Monday between Soviet and Israeli representatives was the beginning of further contacts between the two countries.
At the same time, Soviet officials insisted that there would be no further talks with Israelis and denounced the Israeli delegation for injecting the issue of Soviet Jewry into the talks that were ostensibly to deal with consular matters and Soviet property in Israel.
The meeting ended abruptly after 90 minutes, but many Israelis felt that it was of historic import. The USSR had not held talks with any Israeli representatives since it broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 1967. Israelis, noting that the announcement of the Helsinki meeting had first been made public in Moscow, felt that this might be part of a thaw in relations between the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries and Israel. Signals of such a thaw have been sent recently from Poland and Hungary.
Premier Shimon Peres said Wednesday that the quick ending to the Israeli-Soviet talks in Helsinki Monday and the Soviet response caused him little worry.
LEFT WITH QUESTIONS
But Peres told Israel Television that he was left with questions. Did the Soviets think, he asked “that they would come, they would talk and we would be silent, or that we would say the things they want to hear?”
“I don’t think the Russians came because they thought that we wouldn’t say anything, or that they would stop the talks because we said something,” he added. “They’re not such big cowards and they’re not so naive.”
Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasinow was reported to have said in Moscow Tuesday that the Soviets had no plans to continue consular talks with Israel and accused Israel of unjustifiably interfering in Soviet internal affairs with its requests regarding Soviet Jewry.
He said no agreement was reached in the Helsinki meeting on any matter, “not even an agreement about a possible future meeting. There are no plans for a continuation of this meeting.”
Peres said Israel reserved the right to discuss Soviet Jewry. “I think that we must raise it at every meeting from the beginning, and later on, without fear and without concern,” he said.
He said he doesn’t “get excited” because of the Soviet Foreign Ministry’s “harsh tone.” He noted that the Soviets came to the talks “hesitantly, and with a small, slow step because they fear an Arab reaction.”
“Among other reasons they came, in my opinion, because the Russians want to be seen as the equals of the United States of America. They fear that there will also be political process without Soviet Russia.”
Peres explained that Arab reaction was a significant factor in Soviet actions. He said the Soviets “listen to every little noise in the Arab world. In my opinion, they also are going too far and are exaggerating. For example, they first told the Arabs about their intentions to meet with us, and about their intention to send a consular delegation. Why? It can only be explained by the fact that (the Soviets) were afraid of (the Arabs).”
He expressed the hope that “the Russians–for Russian reasons, not for Israeli or Jewish ones–will continue to search for an opening, a way to continue this dialogue… I can see their arguments, and I respect this, because we don’t hate Russia. This is not our profession.”
THE DOOR REMAINS OPEN
Peres’ reaction to the talks was similar to that of other Israeli officials. Mordechai Lador, Israel’s Ambassador to Finland, was quoted Wednesday as saying “that the doors remain open” and Israel-Soviet contacts would be maintained via the Dutch and Finnish Foreign Ministries.
In Jerusalem, political sources Wednesday took the Soviet statement with a grain of salt. They said the Soviets have not said their final word, and the contacts would continue. They explained the Soviet comments were an attempt to appease the Arab countries.
The sources said they failed to understand the Soviet rage over the raising of the issue of Soviet Jewry, because Israeli leaders had made it clear that they would stress the issue.
Before the surprise Soviet announcement Tuesday, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir told United Jewish Appeal leaders in Jerusalem that if the Soviets wanted to send an official delegation to Israel to deal with consular matters and Soviet assets, Israel also must be allowed to send a delegation to the USSR.
DIFFERING ASSESSMENTS OF THE MEETING
In Bonn Wednesday, an unnamed senior American diplomat told Israel Radio that Israel’s raising of the issue of Soviet Jewry at the onset of the talks was a tactical error.
He said that after a breach of relations of 20 years, “It would have been preferable to raise this issue in a more restrained manner–and not put the Israeli demands immediately to two low-level officials who had no mandate to discuss this matter.”
He indicated that Soviet Jews would have benefitted if demands for their better treatment would have followed official efforts at improving relations.
On Monday, Israel spokesmen were at pains to emphasize that the talks had not really broken down and the very fact of the direct meeting between the delegations was important. The Soviet Union and the entire Soviet bloc except for Rumania broke off relations with Israel in 1967.
Israeli delegation spokesman Ehud Gol indicated that the brief session was inevitable, as the Soviet side had an extremely narrow mandate–to state the Soviet case, listen to the Israelis and then report back to Moscow.
Gol described the meeting as “frank and correct . . . held in a pleasant atmosphere.” The conversation was carried out in English. “At the request of the Finns, we set aside two days for the talks. But there was no agenda, and we did not know how long the talks would last,” he said.
EACH SIDE OUTLINES POINTS
Gol said the Soviet delegation outlined its three points dealing with the proposed dispatch of a Soviet delegation to Jerusalem to discuss Soviet property matters, and the Israelis had read out their verbal statement stressing the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel to join their families and the freeing of Jews imprisoned for Zionist activities, and outlining the Israeli view on the Middle East in general.
“The Russians wrote down every word. We then handed them the written text of our verbal statement,” Gol said.