PARIS (Jun. 14)
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin made a goodwill gesture before leaving France on Wednesday. It was apparently intended to ease the strains that have developed in Franco-Israel relations since the French invited Yasir Arafat here for an official visit last month.
But at the same time, Rabin reportedly refused to receive a verbal message from the Palestine Liberation Organization leader conveyed by Marie-Claire Mendes-France, widow of the late French Jewish premier.
Rabin spent three days in Paris, mainly to attend the annual air show at Le Bourget. He had meetings with Prime Minister Michel Rocard and Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement.
President Francois Mitterrand, still smoldering over the way he was vilified for receiving Arafat, refused to meet with Rabin.
But the defense minister, acceding to the personal request of the president’s wife, ordered the release of Terry Boulatta, a Palestinian woman held in custody in Israel for alleged membership in a terrorist organization. She will come to Paris for medical treatment.
But it may take more than such courtesies to thaw Israel’s relations with the Elysee Palace.
If Israel was angered by Mitterrand’s official invitation to “a terrorist,” the president was more than irked by the fierce reaction of the local Jewish community, which he reportedly is convinced, was instigated by the Israeli Embassy here.
ISRAELIS TURNED DOWN FOREIGN MINISTER
Mitterrand also was said to be upset by Israel’s refusal to receive the French ambassdor for a briefing on Arafat’s meetings in Paris on May 2 and 3.
The Israelis, in fact, declined French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas offer to come to Jerusalem personally to brief Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens on Arafat’s remarks while in France.
Mendes-France, who sympathizes with both Israel and the Palestinian cause, met with Rabin on Tuesday and conveyed a message from Arafat saying that he would like to meet with the defense minister. Mendes-France had met with Arafat in Tunis last Friday.
Rabin replied that he did not want to receive the message “officially,” according to a report Wednesday in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot.
“As far as we know, Yitzhak Rabin is not the first minister to receive a personal message from Arafat,” the paper wrote.
“But Rabin is the first minister to confirm publicly receipt of this message although in his words, he refused to receive it officially.”
The newspaper questioned the difference between hearing a message and receiving one “officially.”
Boulatta, who suffers from a serious liver ailment, has been held in custody for over a year without trial on suspicion of membership in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist faction of the PLO headed by Nayef Hawatmeh.
In Israel, the Defense Ministry said Rabin acted at “the personal request of Mrs. Danielle Mitterrand,” the wife of the French president.