Arafat Says He is Willing to Meet with Shamir, but Not in Jerusalem

Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat told an Italian magazine he would be glad to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, but not in Jerusalem.

He also reiterated his gratitude for the support Pope John Paul II has given his cause.

“I cannot forget that despite the pressure to recognize Israel, the Holy Father continues to call for the application of our rights.

“He has prayed for my people many times,” Arafat said in an interview published Friday in the weekly Venerdi.

“If you ask me if the pope is offering us help in this delicate phase of the peace process, I have to respond, of course, yes.

“He raises his voice against the confiscation of land in the holy places of Jerusalem,” Arafat said.

The PLO leader chided the Israelis for not recognizing that “the course of history had changed.”

Israel is perceived in a different way, he said. “The game has changed: our kids are the new David and they are Goliath.

“This is the stupidity of the current Israeli leadership: it does its best not to understand that there has been something called perestroika; that in South Africa the people voted against apartheid and that (African National Congress leader Nelson) Mandela, after 27 years in prison, could be the prime minister,” Arafat said.

He added that “if Shamir is ready to meet, then so am I.”

But he would not go to Jerusalem because “the Knesset has decreed my death. Better in Geneva, or Washington. But why not Rome?” he asked.

He denied that the PLO had secret contacts with the Israeli government. “We have, though, many links with unofficial personalities,” he said.

He mentioned the Neturei Karta, a Jerusalem-based sect of rigidly Orthodox Jews who support the Palestinian cause because they consider the establishment of a Jewish state before the advent of the Messiah to be a blasphemy.

“They are serving as advisers in our delegation to the peace talks,” Arafat said.

In the interview, Arafat also described his brush with death last month in the Libyan desert. He told how after his plane crashed, killing three people on board, the survivors were threatened by vultures and hyenas.

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