STRASBOURG, France (Sep. 14)
Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat said little of substance here Tuesday night to indicate where the PLO stands with respect to the Middle East peace process.
Invited to the Parliament of Europe several months ago for what many expected to be a revelation of PLO policy, Arafat spoke only at a closed meeting of the 165-member Socialist delegation.
He failed to say what course the PLO would follow since King Hussein of Jordan abdicated responsibility for the Palestinians of the West Bank nearly two months ago.
His remarks, as far as they went, were dismissed in Jerusalem. The director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Yossi Ben-Aharon, told reporters Wednesday that Arafat said “nothing new.”
It was the Socialists, the largest single bloc in the 12-nation parliament, who extended the invitation to Arafat over the protests of most of the other factions.
And protests continued this week. Lord Plumb, a British Conservative who is president of the parliament, was sharply taken to task by colleagues for meeting with Arafat on his arrival here Monday night.
On Tuesday, some 2,000 protesters marched from the city’s synagogue to the parliament building denouncing “the reception given to the leader of the terrorist movement.”
WISHES ‘SHANAH TOVAH’
According to sources attending the meeting of the Socialist bloc, the PLO leader said he and his organization “are ready to go to an international peace conference to make peace with the enemy.”
“I want to make peace with our enemy,” Arafat was quoted as saying, though apparently he was unable to utter the enemy’s name — Israel. “There must be courageous men ready to accept the hand I am stretching.”
At a news conference here Wednesday, Arafat told reporters he was ready to meet with anyone from Israel at the United Nations to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“I am addressing myself to the Israeli people, will they elect peace or war,” Arafat said. Later he wished a “Shanah Tovah” (Happy New Year) to “all the Jews. A happy new year, a peaceful new year.” the PLO leader said.
But while commanding an international forum and world media attention here, Arafat seemed as elusive as ever with respect to PLO policy.
He told the Socialists the PLO was willing to accept a settlement based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which imply recognition of Israel.
But Arafat has said as much before. He made no explicit promise to recognize Israel and made clear that Israel first would have to recognize the PLO.
The PLO chairman had been expected to announce the establishment of a Palestinian government in exile. Questioned on the subject, he stressed that such a decision can be made only by the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s so-called parliament in exile.
The PNC has been unable to agree on a date for its next session, which will deal with how to respond to Hussein’s decision to cut ties to the West Bank.
LE PEN JOINS PROTEST
Although the PLO had described Arafat’s visit to Strasbourg as a “diplomatic break-through,” perhaps the most interesting spectacle was the diverse political and ideological colorations of those who objected to his presence at the parliament.
Simone Veil, an Auschwitz survivor who heads the Liberal faction, was one of the most vociferous. But so was her fellow Frenchman, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a denigrator of the Holocaust who heads the far-right National Front.
Le Pen criticized Lord Plumb, saying “to invite a man who throws bombs into this building is tantamount to introducing a bomb into Parliament.”
Other protesters included Alfred Coste Floret, a former French prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials; Ian Paisley, a Protestant leader from Northern Ireland; and deputies from Belgium, Holland and West Germany.
Arafat was guest of honor at a dinner given by Socialist leaders Tuesday night. He was scheduled to meet Wednesday with Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias, the current chairman of the European Community’s Council of Ministers, and with French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas.
It will be his first meeting with a French Cabinet minister on French soil.