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Arafat Tells Israeli Journalists He’d Meet Rabin for Sake of Peace

Twelve Israeli journalists had a rare surprise when they ran into Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat in the lobby of their hotel here and interviewed him for an hour and a half this week.

“I have said that I am ready to meet (Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin at any place for the sake of peace,” Arafat told the reporters, who were in Vienna at the invitation of the Austrian Federal Press and Information Service for a promotional tour of the country and to attend the Vienna Art Festival.

“Israel is not allowing the (peace) process to advance,” as it “is no giving anything to the Palestinians,” the PLO leader said Tuesday.

“Every Israeli proposal that contains a concession–at the end there is another paragraph that cancels the concession,” Arafat said.

“Israel gives with one hand and takes with the other,” he added.

The PLO chief was in Austria to meet with state officials and coincidentally was staying in the same top-ranked hotel as the Israeli journalists.

Arafat told the international press after his meetings with Austrian leaders that he felt deep gratitude for Austria’s role in the Middle East peace process.

Following his meeting with Foreign Minister Alois Mock, whom Arafat addressed as “my friend,” he reminded journalists that the very first idea for a peace conference was born here in Vienna, when he met former-Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky for the first time.

TRYING TO REKINDLE WARM TIES

Arafat, who last came to Vienna in August 1990 for Kreisky’s funeral, also met this week with President Thomas Klestil, Chancellor Franz Vranitzky and the two presidents of the Austrian Parliament, Heinz Fischer and Heide Schmidt.

Arafat’s relationship with his Austrian friends cooled down abruptly during and immediately after the Persian Gulf War, presumably because of the PLO’s support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The current visit is therefore seen as the product of Arafat’s effort to re-establish the formerly good relations.

Arafat told the journalists that the latest American proposals were unacceptable and he claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was using exactly the same slogans and tactics as his predecessor, Yitzhak Shamir of Likud.

Arafat’s visit is neither a state visit nor an official one, according to strict protocol — it is just a visit.

The exact diplomatic situation is a bit convoluted.

Five years ago, Austria granted the PLO’s representative in Vienna the status of ambassador — without, however, giving the PLO representation the status of an embassy. Austria has not acknowledged the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed state.

Nevertheless, this half-acceptance is criticized by the Israelis, much as the Arabs have protested the establishment in Vienna of a chapter of Teddy Kollek’s Jerusalem Foundation.

Arabs complained that was an acknowledgement of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

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