Shamir Demands Official Quit over Remark Acknowledging PLO

Premier Yitzhak Shamir has demanded the resignation of a top Foreign Ministry official who publicly acknowledged in Washington last week that the Palestine Liberation Organization represents the Palestinian people.

Maj. Gen. Avraham Tamir, director general of the ministry, made the statement in an Aug. 31 address to the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The New York Times last week quoted Tamir as saying that “everybody knows the PLO is the national organization for the Palestinian people. There is no replacement for that organization. So the question is not how to replace the PLO, but how to change it.”

Members of Shamir’s Likud bloc say the statement is a departure from Israeli government policy. Israel officially refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the PLO as a representative body, since it views the organization as a terrorist body bent on the destruction of the Jewish state.

But leaders of the rival Labor Alignment, which controls the Foreign Ministry, maintain that Tamir was only acknowledging that the Palestinians view the PLO as their representative body. They point out that he did not call for recognition of the PLO.

In Washington, the Israeli Embassy on Thursday dismissed as “hoopla” criticisms of Tamir’s statement.

“Tamir did not in any way, shape or form say that Israel should talk with … recognize the PLO… or create a Palestinian state,” said spokesman Yosef Gal.

Gal said that while Tamir declared that Palestinians consider the PLO their organization, it would be “terribly wrong” to infer that this signals “a change of policy in Israel.”

Affirming that “there has been no change in Israel’s position toward the PLO,” Gal said there should be “no contact” with the organization until it “stops terrorism,” accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which recognize Israel’s right to exist, and agree to exchange territory for peace.

Tamir was in the United States before traveling to Mexico City to chair a conference of Israeli ambassadors in Central America.

(JTA Washington correspondent Howard Rosenberg contributed to this report.)

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