PARIS (Apr. 5)
Yasir Arafat, considerably buoyed by his meetings with former President Jimmy Carter, on Thursday invited Israel’s Prime Minister-designate Shimon Peres to meet with him in Paris “at the earliest” possible moment, to prepare the ground for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
The Palestine Liberation Organization chairman, whom Carter praised for his efforts toward Mideast peace, said he was ready to meet at any time with Peres or any other Israeli government leader — a proposition highly unlikely, since contacts with the PLO are banned by Israeli law.
The Labor Party leader is expected to present a new coalition government to the Knesset for a vote of confidence this Sunday.
Carter and Arafat met with French President Francois Mitterrand for 45 minutes at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday. They had a two-hour bilateral session later at the Crillon Hotel, where Arafat was staying.
As he left the hotel, Carter said, “Arafat was doing all he could to promote the peace process.”
He said he met with the PLO leader in order to advance progress toward a comprehensive and lasting peace agreement.
MEETS AS PRIVATE CITIZEN
Carter arrived in Paris on Wednesday afternoon from a two-week fact-finding tour of the Middle East at the behest of President Bush.
He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he met with Arafat “as a private citizen and university professor.”
Carter lectures at Emory University in Atlanta on national and international affairs. The university is the site of the Carter Library and Policy Center, where he has hosted conferences on the Middle East that included PLO members.
Carter has met with PLO members previously, also stressing his university, not governmental, position.
On Thursday, Carter was accompanied at the meeting by his wife Rosalynn.
An ebullient Arafat told a radio interviewer that his proposed meeting with Peres could take place at the Elysee Palace at Mitterrand’s initiative.
The French president was the first Western chief of state to formally receive the PLO leader when he came to Paris last May at the French government’s invitation.
President Carter, though ex-officio, is the highest-ranking American personality to meet with Arafat.
Palestinian officials here said jubilantly that Arafat’s meeting with the architect of the Camp David accords gave the PLO and its leader a “new international stature and prestige.”
It also came “at an hour of need,” because Palestinian extremists charge that Arafat “sold out” to America without getting tangible results, the officials told the French media.
On the other hand, the relative weakness of the Jewish community’s reaction to Arafat’s high level meetings was viewed by the Palestinians as a sign the Jews are, to a degree, resigned to the situation.
About 100 Jewish demonstrators shouted anti-PLO slogans and tussled with counterdemonstrators and riot police outside the Crillon on Wednesday night. There were no injuries or arrests. The police said the demonstrations were smaller and quieter than during Arafat’s visit in May.
The Israeli ambassador to France, Ovadia Soffer, charged that Arafat put on “a cosmetic charm campaign without in any way changing his terrorist principles.”
Arafat indicated at a news conference here Wednesday night that the Palestinians are deeply concerned with what he called the massive immigration by Soviet Jews to Israel.
He said Palestinians did not oppose free emigration from the Soviet Union, but claimed Soviet Jews were forced to go to Israel. He said that, according to official Israeli figures, 300,000 Soviet Jews per year are expected.
“By the end of the century, in 10 years from now, there will be another 3 million Jews in Israel. There will be a second Israel with which we shall have to cope,” Arafat said.
He appealed to the nations of the world to open their gates to Soviet Jewish emigration. “Let Russian Jews freely choose where they want to go and let them enjoy the right to return to the Soviet Union if they so desire,” the PLO chief said.
Arafat left for Rome on Thursday, where he was scheduled to be received by Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on Friday.