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Arafat Meets Top French Officials, but Meeting with Jews Doesn’t Happen

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Flush from his recent success signing a mutual recognition accord with Israel, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat met with leading French officials last week during an official visit here.

But a meeting with French Jewish leaders failed to materialize.

During his two-day visit, which began last Friday, Arafat met with French President Francois Mitterrand, Prime Minister Edouard Balladur and leading political figures.

He also met with Simone Veil, a very popular senior minister in the French Cabinet in charge of health who is proudly Jewish. Veil is a former president of the European Parliament and a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp.

After their meeting, Veil said that France would look into the best and most efficient way to help the palestinians establish a public health service.

Last week, France earmarked an emergency aid package of about $1 million to help the Palestinian educational and health systems in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as schools in eastern Jerusalem.

But Arafat did not meet with the leaders of the Jewish community in France, despite a request by PLO representatives to the Jewish umbrella organization CRIF.

After heated discussions, the executive committee of CRIF had given the green light to its president, Jean Kahn, to meet with the PLO chairman.

But CRIF insisted on three prerequisites for the meeting: that the PLO would state publicly that it was the Palestinians who had requested the meeting; that the encounter would take place on neutral ground; and that Arafat would distance himself from former declarations doubting the full reality of the Holocaust.

SEEKING MORE MEETINGS WITH JEWS

Arafat allegedly has stated that the total number of Jewish victims of the Nazis was exaggerated.

Arafat apparently found CRIF’s demands unacceptable, and the meeting did not take place.

But the Palestinian leader did meet with various Jewish and Israeli journalists during his visit here.

Meanwhile, the PLO leader’s meetings with French government officials bore fruit.

Most prominent among the offers of aid was a pledge to help the Palestinians set up their first television station. An agreement was signed between Yasser Abed Rabbo, head of the PLO’s information department, and Herve Bourges, head of France’s public television channel.

According to the agreement, France will provide “the necessary help to set up the administrative, legal and production structures” that will form the basis of an eventual Palestinian radio and television station.

And a French-Palestinian commission will meet in Paris next week to discuss further aid.

Arafat’s attempts to meet with Jewish leaders are not over.

According to reliable sources, Arafat will try to meet with representatives of the Jewish community in each of the European states he is scheduled to visit in the coming months.

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