JERUSALEM (Jan. 31)
Yael Dayan, Labor Knesset member and daughter of the late Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan, has created a stir by becoming the first government figure to meet with Yasir Arafat under a new law allowing contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Whatever their personal political leanings, Israelis shook their heads in amazement this past weekend as they saw newspaper photographs of Yael Dayan standing beside a man many still consider to be Israel’s archenemy.
Dayan flew to Tunis to meet with the PLO chairman on her own initiative. A dovish lawmaker who has admitted to meeting with lesser PLO officials in the past, Dayan said she went to the Tunisian capital to convince herself that the PLO holds the key to peace, “without which there is no life, neither for us nor for them.”
Government officials, both from Dayan’s ruling Labor Party as well as from opposition parties, criticized her for the meeting.
Ori Orr, Labor Knesset member and chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said the meeting was “foolish and redundant, and had nothing to it but capturing headlines.”
However, Orr rejected demands by the opposition Likud to remove Dayan from the committee.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin also criticized Dayan’s actions before she even met with Arafat.
Dayan did receive some support. Labor Knesset member Avraham Burg, chairman of the Education Committee, praised his colleague for her move, saying that anything for the cause of peace ought to be commended.
NO SYMPATHY FOR HAMAS
Dayan left for Tunis soon after the Knesset on Jan. 19 repealed a law banning any contact between Israelis and PLO representatives. The only other Israeli to meet with the PLO chairman since then was peace activist Abie Nathan, who flew to Tunis immediately following the vote.
Dayan was warmly received by Arafat and they held a joint news conference after meeting together twice. She presented Arafat with a copy of her book, “My Father, His Daughter,” about her late father, the former defense minister.
Both of Dayan’s meetings, the first a mere courtesy call, and the second a lengthy political discussion, were attended by Palestinian leaders such as Faisal Husseini, Yasir Abed Rabbo, Nabil Sha’ath and Hisham Mustafa.
The meetings reportedly contained few surprises. Arafat told Dayan Israel’s deportation in December of 415 Palestinians to Lebanon had created a crisis threatening the peace process.
But at the same time, Arafat and the other PLO officials betrayed no sympathy for the Islamic groups operating in the administered territories. They even went so far as to condemn the murder by fundamentalists in December of Israeli border policeman Nissim Toledano, which immediately preceded the mass expulsions.
However, Arafat made a point of reiterating his commitment to “his entire people,” including those who fight against him. He spoke of the PLO’s current predicament, in which the fundamentalist Hamas movement is growing in popularity, while his more moderate organization has no tangible gains to point to in the peace process.