Nathan Again Meets with Arafat in Tunis, Defying Anti-terror Law

Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan, recently freed from prison, where he served time for having met with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization, made good on his promise to renew contacts with the PLO.

Nathan met Friday evening in Tunis with Yasir Arafat and other PLO leaders. In a telephone interview Sunday with the Jewish Tele- graphic Agency, he said he was scheduled to meet with Arafat once more on Monday before leaving the Tunisian capital, where the PLO has its headquarters.

Nathan had to cancel several planned meetings for Sunday because of an intestinal infection that confined him to bed. But the illness did not appear to weaken his resolve.

“I know what I am risking and that I might be put on trial again upon my return to Israel this week,” he told JTA. “But I am prepared to spend the rest of my life in prison, if this could help the peace process and help bring about a real and lasting peace between Jews and Arabs.”

He said PLO chief Arafat had vowed to “never disrupt the peace process.”

Nathan, 62, a former Israeli air force pilot who operates the Voice of Peace radio-broadcasting ship outside Israel’s territorial waters, was sentenced in September to six months in jail for violating an Israeli law that forbids contact with terrorist groups. Nathan had met several times with Arafat.

He was released Feb. 9, having received two months off for good behavior. But last Tuesday, Nathan said he would renew his contacts with the PLO, regardless of the threat of new punishment.

RIGHT WING DEMANDS HIS ARREST

The “important things in life, such as peace and freedom for people, are worth being locked up for,” Nathan declared last week. He had said at the time that he would go first to Cairo and then to North Yemen. But he declined to say when he would travel, so as to avoid intervention by Israeli police.

On Sunday, right-wing members of Knesset attacked Israel Radio for having aired reports of Nathan’s visit with Arafat, saying such publicity over the state-owned radio only helped to serve the interests of Israel’s enemies.

Tzahi Hanegbi of Likud asked the attorney general to ensure that Nathan is arrested upon his return to Israel and that he serve the suspended one-year prison term that had been imposed on him in addition to his six-month term.

Nathan, who arrived in Tunis on Friday, met first with Bassam Abu Sharif, one of Arafat’s closest advisers. He met later with Arafat at the PLO chief’s home. They discussed the political situation in Israel and among the Palestinians.

Nathan said he told Arafat to discount media reports that claim Israel is opposed to peace. He told Arafat that most Israelis want peace and are prepared to continue the peace process.

According to Nathan, Arafat replied that he, too, wants peace, and stressed that, come what may, he would “never disrupt the peace process.”

ARAB LEAGUE MOVING TO CAIRO

Arafat told Nathan that he, too, has to deal with dissent, in his case from the Palestinian rank and file.

Israeli Prime Ministe Yitzhak Shamir “is not the only one who has problems within his own camp,” he said, referring to dissension within the Likud ranks. “I have my problems, too.”

Nathan told the Israeli media by telephone that he had also appealed to the PLO leader to try to effect the release of Israeli soldiers held by terrorist organizations in Lebanon, and he said he would continue to discuss this issue.

Nathan said Arafat had shown sympathy for Israelis imprisoned for years and promised to do what he could to gain their release.

Meanwhile, the Arab League was also meeting Sunday in Tunis and decided to move its headquarters from there to Cairo. The decision reportedly was taken by unanimous vote of the 12 foreign ministers attending the meeting.

The Arab League moved to Tunis after Egypt signed the Camp David peace agreement with Israel in 1978.

After Egypt’s recent improvement of relations with Libya and Syria, only the PLO remained to reject the move to Cairo, claiming that the league “will not be safe” only a few hundred yards from the Israeli Embassy.

The league delegates were in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Tunis, listening to reports of the events in Jerusalem. Among them was Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid, who recognized Nathan and warmly shook his hand, saying, “Keep on fighting — you are fighting for a good cause.”

Nathan reportedly received a telephone call Sunday from a Hollywood producer who suggested making a movie about his life, starring Michael Douglas.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY