Israel, Palestinians Seek Closer Ties with Moscow in Wake of Failed Coup

With Mikhail Gorbachev back in control of the Soviet government, Israeli officials and Palestinian leaders alike scrambled Thursday to seek improved relations with Moscow.

Foreign Minister David Levy expressed hope that Israel and the Soviet Union would soon resume–talks aimed at re-establishing full diplomatic relations, which Moscow severed in 1967. The two countries now have consular relations.

It is generally assumed here that full relations will be restored before Israel participates in the Middle East peace conference that the United States and Soviet Union are proposing to hold in October. But there has been no official confirmation from the Soviet side that it is ready to take that step.

The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, has backtracked from its initial enthusiasm for the attempted takeover of the Soviet government by Communist Party hard-liners.

A Palestinian delegation from the administered territories that was supposed to visit the Soviet Union next week postponed its trip without explanation. Speculation here was that the group had planned to shore up ties with the short-lived regime.

East Jerusalem activist Faisal Husseini and other Palestinian leaders met with a Soviet consular officer here and made a point of distinguishing their “neutral” attitude toward the coup and the emotional reaction in support of it voiced by “Arabs in the street.”

But their protestations seemed to many Israelis to reflect second thoughts among local Palestinians, who fear they may have rushed too soon to support the wrong party.

EXTRA HOUSING BEING PREPARED

Levy referred caustically Thursday to the joy expressed by “some elements” who were blinded into believing that a reactionary regime in the Soviet Union would help the Palestinian cause.

They were repeating the same mistake that led many Palestinians to support Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait a year ago, the foreign minister said.

But Hatem Abdul Kader, an editor of the East Jerusalem daily Al Fajr, said Wednesday that the Israeli press had purposely focused on the emotional reaction of the street, whereas the Palestine Liberation Organization’s official reaction had been restrained, treating the coup as an internal Soviet affair.

While the Palestinians’ enthusiasm for Gorbachev’s ouster clearly had much to do with their dismay over the Soviet Union’s warming relations with Israel, it was also an indication of their resentment over his decision in the late 1980s to permit virtually free Jewish emigration.

Ironically, though, the coup attempt may end up spurring Soviet Jewish aliyah. Israel is now anticipating an upsurge in immigration, even though the immediate danger for Soviet Jews is apparently over.

Israel’s Housing Ministry is preparing 20,000 housing units for immediate occupancy to meet the expected demand. And the Jewish Agency for Israel announced this week that its transit centers in Eastern Europe can accommodate as many as 100,000 Jews a month if need be.

Jewish Agency Chairman Simcha Dinitz expressed hope that the Soviet authorities would continue to permit departures for Israel as they have in the past.

NEXT STORY