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E.c. No Longer Considers PLO Credible Partner, Israeli Says

The European Community has taken a second look at the Palestine Liberation Organization and no longer considers it a “credible” partner in Middle East peace talks, Israel’s ambassador to the E.C., Avi Primor, told a group of journalists here Friday.

According to Primor, who is also ambassador to Belgium, the E.C. now shuns Yasir Arafat’s PLO because it supports Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

The shift marks a “profound modification” of Europe’s attitude toward Israel, the envoy said.

He spoke after diplomatic sources announced last week that the E.C. had “frozen” all contacts with the PLO to protest Arafat’s stance in the Gulf war.

The sources noted that the 12 E.C. foreign ministers decided on Feb. 4 to launch a Middle East diplomatic initiative by inviting the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, Syria and the Union of Arab Maghreb (North African nations of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco) to post-Gulf War talks.

Pointedly excluded is the PLO, which the E.C. had in the past always insisted must be a participant in the regional peace process.

Primor said the new E.C. posture remakes its previous position, which had “been always unilateral and unbalanced” toward Israel.

A further gesture made by the European body was the E.C. foreign ministers’ decision on Feb. 4 to include Israel in the financial aid package it had agreed upon earlier for Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, whose economies have been profoundly damaged by the Gulf war.

“This is also an important step,” said Primor.

He said the E.C. Council of Ministers is now ready to study Israel’s 1989 peace initiative, which calls for elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to see if it could be a “starting point” for peace negotiations in the Middle East.

In Italy, meanwhile, Renato Altissimo, leader of the small Liberal Party, which is part of the governing coalition, called for a complete revamping of Middle East policy in favor of Israel.

Altissimo, just back from a visit to Jerusalem, said the E.C. and Italy must clearly establish what their position will be after the Gulf war.

“Only if Europe, and thus Italy, gives serious and concrete proof of support to Israel, helping that country out of the sense of isolation in which it finds itself, will it be possible to construct a post-crisis solution,” he said.

Altissimo also urged the Vatican to extend diplomatic recognition to Israel.

He called on the E.C. to regulate arms sales to the region and to hold a Helsinki-type Middle East conference along the lines of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Liberal Party leader reported on his meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and other Israeli political figures.

Altissimo said he found in Israel “a great disillusion and bitterness over the fact that Rome continues to hold the PLO as a valid and respectable interlocutor.”

(JTA correspondent Ruth E. Gruber in Rome contributed to this report.)

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