The two Palestine Liberation Organization officials who came to the United States ostensibly to open a propaganda office in Washington met with small groups of Jews in New York and Washington this month and sought to give an impression that the terrorist organization is moderating its view toward Israel.
The officials–Sabri Jiryis and Issa Satawi, both Palestinians–first met with seven or eight Jews at a New York hotel at the invitation of the Arabs. About a week later, on Nov. 15, the pair lunched with five other Jews at the invitation of Tartt Bell, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Washington public affairs program, at the Committee’s quarters.
Those invited to the two gatherings were mainly officials, some of high rank, of major Jewish organizations, but several emphasized to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that they attended as individuals and not as representatives of their organizations. PLO officials had met previously in Paris with non-official but politically active Israelis.
Bell declined to go into details about the meeting or to identify those present. He said he was “delighted to hear signals of change in the position of the PLO,” which he described as being aimed at a two-state solution and acceptance of a “secure Israel.” The signals, he said, came from “newspapers and elsewhere.” He also said the signals represented the position the two PLO officials “are taking.”
REACTIONS TO THE MEETINGS
Since U.S. policy is not to have official contacts with the PLO, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, and the Israeli government has vowed never to have dealings with it regardless of any change it might make in its public position, Jews available for interviews with JTA were asked why they decided to meet with the PLO officials.
“It was useful for us to hear what they had to say and to tell them what we think,” one replied. Another commented that since the Friends Committee issued the invitation, it was courteous to accept and not reject out of hand an attempt at a conciliatory approach. The Committee is strongly in favor of a Palestinian state and has often criticized Israel.
At the Washington meeting, JTA was told, the PLO officials not only did not bring up their publicly stated mission of opening an office here but denied that was their purpose. “Such an office was not under discussion at all,” one of those present said. “When we asked are you going to open an office here, I was told ‘no, we have offices in New York City and Beirut.’ They lied to us because the PLO registered a few days later at the Justice Department to open an office here.”
With the State Department having said that “private” citizens had informed it of the PLO desire to open a Washington office. JTA learned that the citizens at the meeting were among those and that at least one gave a memorandum on it to the Department.
The general feeling both in Washington and New York, by those familiar with the sessions, is that the PLO is seeking to soften the American sentiment against it in preparation for a change in PLO public policy that will enable the terrorist organization to take on the garb of respectability and receive sanction from the United States government as a legitimate body. They foresaw an intense pro-PLO propaganda campaign in the offing to obtain a sympathetic hearing among Americans about “refugees” unfamiliar with the facts about the Middle East.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.