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Israel Irked by Arafat’s Reception and Abie Nathan’s Meeting with Him

Israel has officially expressed regret over the meeting between French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat, who is presently in France.

But it remains to be seen how Israeli officialdom will react to self-styled peace mediator Abie Nathan’s meeting with Arafat Monday in Tunis.

The Foreign Ministry reportedly made strenuous efforts to prevent the Dumas-Arafat meeting. Their failure to do this constituted a diplomatic setback for Israel and a boost for the PLO.

Abie Nathan, a citizen of Israel, clearly violated Israel’s anti-terrorism law, which, as recently amended, forbids any contact with the PLO, regardless of motivation.

Whereas past meetings between Israelis and PLO representatives were condemned here as irresponsible acts of left-wingers, Nathan, a former Tel Aviv restaurateur, poses something of a public relations dilemma.

Owner of the “Voice of Peace,” a radio ship that broadcasts pop music and peace messages from just outside Israeli territorial waters, he is a popular figure and has friends in the political establishment.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Wednesday that Nathan’s meeting with Arafat was “a serious violation of the law” and that he would be interrogated as soon as he returns to Israel.

According to Nathan, Arafat scored a propaganda victory in Strasbourg, where he met with members of the Parliament of Europe.

It was not, however, because of his speech, delivered at a closed meeting of the Socialist delegation, which contained no policy break-through.

The victory, as the Israelis are well aware, was his reception by Dumas. Although French foreign ministers have met with Arafat in the past while visiting Arab countries, Dumas is the first to meet with him on French soil.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it failed to understand the purpose of the meeting or how it could contribute to the Middle East peace process.

Local Palestinian supporters of the PLO, however, were satisfied with Arafat’s appearance in Strasbourg.

Fayez Abu-Rahme, a prominent Gaza lawyer, said Arafat’s speech would improve the PLO’s image.

But he said no changes can take place until the Palestine National Council convenes. The council functions as a parliamentary body for the PLO.

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