Arafat Denies Congratulating Soviet Hard-liners over Coup

In what was described as his first published interview since the failed coup in Moscow, Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat denied that the PLO had congratulated Communist hard-liners who attempted to oust Mikhail Gorbachev.

Arafat also said he thought the changes taking place in the Soviet Union would not have much effect on the Middle East peace process.

Arafat made his remarks in an interview given Aug. 24 and published in the current issue of the conservative, Catholic-influenced news weekly II Sabato.

His remarks followed blistering scorn by Israeli leaders for how the Palestinians had, in supporting the coup, once again “backed the wrong horse,” as they had during the Persian Gulf War.

‘IT’S ALL LIES’

Palestinians and Iraqis had been reported to be reveling in the turn of events in Moscow, which had been retreating from its years-long support for the Arab states and clearly softening its stand toward Israel.

But “what happened in Moscow shows that perestroika, despite everything, has been etched deeply in all sectors of the Soviet world and has taken root among the people,” Arafat said. “The Soviet people have shown that a return to the past is impossible.”

Arafat denied reports that the PLO had sent a message of congratulations to the Communist diehards who tried to overthrow Gorbachev.

“That is absolutely untrue,” said Arafat. “It’s all lies.”

He said it is “possible that there were declarations from some Palestinian personalities. But these were personal interventions that do not represent in an way the official position of the PLO.

“From the first days of the events in Moscow, from Aug. 20, we officially stated that the events going on represented an internal affair of the Soviet Union and that it would be up to the Soviet people to decide their future.”

Arafat said the Palestinians had been convinced that the return of Gorbachev was “a guarantee for the maintenance of the Soviet-American accords” aimed at convening a Middle East peace conference.

Arafat remarked that it “is possible, and in fact it is very probable, that this conference will be postponed for some days because of the internal situation in the Soviet Union, but we do not anticipate further significant change.”

NO DECISION YET ON PEACE CONFERENCE

He said he had sent a letter to Gorbachev on Aug. 24, congratulating him on his return to power, and “this is exactly what I wrote” about probable postponement of the conference.

President Bush said in a news conference Monday that it was possible the conference would be postponed, but not because of events in Moscow. He hinted it was because of recalcitrance by other parties, seemingly in the Palestinian camp.

Arafat said in the interview that the PLO had not yet decided what attitude to take toward a peace conference.

He repeated the PLO’s insistence that Israel give up East Jerusalem and said the Vatican could play a mediating role.

“I think that the Vatican could assume a fundamental role in the Middle East peace process,” he said. “When I met with the pope, I understood very well the enormous importance John Paul II and the Vatican place on the questions of Jerusalem. For Christians, as for Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians, Jerusalem is not just any city; it is Jerusalem.”

Last month, Arafat sent a letter to the pope vilifying the Israelis for “Judaizing” Jerusalem, usurping it from other peoples. In the letter, he asked for the pope’s intervention in the matter, playing up to issues that have impeded the Vatican from establishing ties with the Jewish state.

NEXT STORY