JERUSALEM (Aug. 2)
For 90 minutes this week, it seemed as if a dream came true — telephone lines to Jerusalem were overloaded with calls from Kuwait, Beirut, Cairo and other Arab cities.
The occasion was a phone-in program organized by the Arabic program on Israel Radio. The guest in the studio was Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, visibly enjoying direct contacts with the Arab world that came with no international conference and no preconditions.
“Why don’t you meet (Yasir) Arafat and resolve the problem?” asked Mohammad Salem from Kuwait.
He received the traditional Israeli response: that Israel will talk only to Arab countries and to representatives of the residents in the administered territories. Most of the other questions dealt with the Palestinian issue, with many caller arguing that Israel should negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Arens politely told his listeners that he was glad he could talk directly to residents of Arab countries, but they failed to move him away from the traditional Israeli position to boycott anything that hints of the PLO.
In fact, when Mike Yunis, the PLO representative in Cyprus, phoned in with the same question, Arens refused to talk to him.
There are no direct telephone lines between Israel and the Arab world, with the exception of Egypt. Solan Communications in London, a private communications company, arranged the telephone hookup through a computerized transmitter. Arab listeners dialed 00-4416-248244 and were directly linked with the studio in Jerusalem.
Albert Yunis, a resident of East Beirut, wanted to know whether Israel’s continued holding of Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid did not amount to a death sentence on the other hostages.
“If we release that criminal, we will only encourage more terrorist activities,” Arens said. He reiterated Israel’s readiness to exchange prisoners.
Yunis added a good word. He told the Israeli minister that most of the people in Christian East Beirut supported the kidnapping of Obeid, and were hoping that it would end up with an exchange of prisoners.
Arens refused to go further into the Obeid kidnapping, but said that the only way to fight terrorism was to avoid giving in to it.
Arens fielded questions from Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Israel and the territories.