PARIS (May. 2)
President Francois Mitterrand asked Yasir Arafat some blunt questions Tuesday and told him to bring the Palestine Liberation Organization’s 1964 charter into line with his professed desire for peace with Israel.
The charter calls for the destruction of Israel by armed struggle.
The French president and the PLO chairman met for 90 minutes at the Elysee Palace shortly after Arafat arrived for a two-day visit, at the invitation of the government.
It was Arafat’s first meeting with the chief of state of a major Western nation. Thousands of French Jews took part in angry protests, and more mass demonstrations are planned.
An official statement, read by palace spokesman Hubert Vedrine, said the president asked Arafat "to clear up" the contradiction between the language of the charter and his own proclamation in Geneva last December recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
Arafat later told French television that the charter, known formally as the Palestine National Covenant, is null and void. "As for the charter, I believe there’s an expression in French, ‘C’est caduque,’ (It’s null and void)" Arafat was quoted as saying.
Mitterrand also probed PLO intentions in significant detail.
According to the spokesman, he wanted to know from Arafat how the PLO interprets the Palestinians’ "right of return," what territorial boundaries the PLO envisages for a Palestinian state and what compensation it would demand for Arab property inside Israel.
KEEPING VISIT LOW KEY
Arafat has rarely if ever been pinned down on such items, especially by a leading world statesman.
Mitterrand apparently was honoring a pledge he made to CRIF, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, to use his meeting with Arafat to clarify the PLO’s position on a number of matters crucial to Israel’s security.
The Elysee Palace gave no indication what, if any, reply on these points was given by the PLO chief.
The French president, who opened the door to international recognition and legitimacy for the PLO, is apparently asking Arafat to return the favor by making additional concessions and going beyond what he said in Geneva last year.
But Mitterrand has clearly been taken aback by the strong Jewish reaction against his invitation to Arafat.
The government is going out of its way to keep the visit low key.
The traditional French pomp and pageantry was missing when Arafat landed Tuesday at Orly Airport, where he was greeted by a junior minister at the Foreign Office.
There was no honor guard at the Elysee Palace, no military band, no red carpet.
Arafat was greeted by the chief of protocol and escorted to Mitterrand’s office, where the president waited at the door.
As Arafat’s plane was landing Tuesday morning, Jewish shopkeepers on the Rue du Sentier, in Paris’ garment district, sounded their fire and burglar alarms to "voice our anger."
Thousands were expected at a demonstration, called by CRIF Tuesday night outside the Rue Copernie synagogue, where four people were killed and six wounded in a terrorist attack in October 1980.
Three vigils were held Monday night at the sites of other terrorist attacks on Jews in recent years.
They were attended by militants who assailed the French president, much to the embarrassment of the organized community.
Young members of Betar, the right-wing Zionist youth movement, shouted "Mitterrand treason" and "Mitterrand-Arafat. Shame, shame."
But thousands of French Arabs, mainly Algerians, are expected to attend a counterdemonstration in support of Arafat’s visit. They will call on Israel to open a direct dialogue with the PLO.
Several Jewish organizations, associated with the left-wing Mapam party or with the Peace Now movement, also support Arafat’s visit. They plan a public demonstration Wednesday to welcome him.