Yasir Arafat is ready to meet Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at any time and any place, according to an Arab Knesset member who met with the Palestine Liberation Organization leader over the weekend in Tunisia.
Knesset member Abd el-Wahab Darawshe of the Arab Democratic Party, who had four separate meetings with Arafat, quoted the PLO chief as saying: “I reach out my hand to Rabin for peace, and hope that he will return my hand. I am willing to meet him in Jerusalem, Cairo or any other place.”
But Arafat’s gesture got a cold shoulder from Rabin’s spokesman, Gad Ben-Ari, who told reporters Sunday there was no intention here of reacting to Arafat’s message.
The government, he said, would stick to its policy of avoiding any direct or indirect negotiations with the PLO.
Arafat apparently told Darawshe that he decided to approach Rabin because of the present deadlock in the peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He expressed confidence that a personal meeting with Rabin would bring about a real breakthrough in the peace process.
Darawshe told reporters that Arafat was making the initiative at the present time because he felt that his standing within the PLO had been strengthened following the recent meeting of the Palestine National Council, where even the rejectionist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine endorsed his moves.
According to Darawshe, Arafat did not make the same offer when Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was in office, because he did not believe such a meeting would have led to peace. When Israelis voted Rabin’s Labor Party into power last summer, they expressed their desire for peace, said Arafat.
Arafat said that although he had full confidence in the Palestinian negotiating team, he felt that only a summit meeting, of the kind which took place between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, would break the current deadlock.
Meanwhile, Darawshe may be in hot water for meeting with the PLO leader. Although the government has said it intends to amend the law forbidding such contacts, the PLO is still regarded here as a terrorist organization that is off limits.
The Knesset House Committee was scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the “unlawful” meetings of Darawshe, as well as those that two other Knesset members, Naomi Chazan of Meretz and Hashem Mahmid of the Hadash Communist Party, had earlier with PLO officials.
Darawshe insisted Sunday that during the Likud government’s tenure, too, Cabinet ministers had met with PLO officials.