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Arafat, Warmly Welcomed in Italy, Speaks to Pope About Immigration

April 9, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Yasir Arafat took his campaign against Soviet Jewish aliyah to the Vatican on Friday, telling Pope John Paul II that the massive wave of immigration would cause “dangerous demographic changes” in Jerusalem that would “distort the historical character and civilization of the city.”

A Vatican spokesman refused to confirm whether the subject of Soviet Jewish immigration came up during the pontiff’s 20-minute audience with the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, his third since 1982.

The audience was the highlight of Arafat’s two-day visit to Italy, which ended Friday evening with an address to some 5,000 people at an open-air rally in the city of Perugia.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls issued a statement Friday saying the pope agreed to receive Arafat “believing it is a fundamental part of his ministry to encourage every positive attitude in the search for peace and, in particular, to reinforce the will for dialogue as the only valid means to find adequate solutions to conflicts.”

The statement recalled that in the course of his pontificate, the pope had “many times affirmed the necessity to exclude in the most absolute way the recourse to arms and especially the violence exercised by terrorist means and revenge.”

The papal statement was a virtual replay of those issued by the Vatican after Arafat’s meetings with the pope on Sept. 15, 1982, and Dec. 23, 1988.


The only element not found in the earlier statements was the injunction that each side in the conflict respect the “fears of the other” in addition to their rights, observers pointed out.

The statement referred to the “two peoples who live in the Holy Land, the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

It asserted the pope’s “profound conviction” that “only a sincere will for mutual understanding” could open the way to negotiation and “the end of suffering” that “allows everyone to live in peace, liberty, dignity and tranquility in his own country.”

In New York, the American Jewish Committee, whose leaders met with the pope on March 16, issued a statement Friday expressing “regret that the pope did not publicly call on Mr. Arafat specifically to condemn and renounce the murder of Palestinians by other Palestinians.”

The reference was to Palestinians slain by intifada activists on suspicion of collaborating with the Israeli authorities.

“Arafat has steadfastly refused to speak out against those horrors. We are sorry that an important opportunity to focus attention on this situation was missed,” the statement said.

Arafat told a news conference following his audience that he had “warmly thanked the pope for the position taken by the Vatican and the pope himself on the sovereignty of the Palestinian people and its right to national independence in its own land.”

Arafat’s speech in Perugia, a university city about 100 miles north of Rome with a large foreign student population, including many Arabs, was one of the PLO chief’s few public addresses outside the Arab world.


He devoted it to accusing Israel of state terrorism against Palestinians involved in the intifada, including the alleged use of poison gas against demonstrators. He compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi treatment of the Jews in the Holocaust.

Arafat had a receptive audience. The crowd of 5,000 chanted “Intifada!” and raised their hands in the “Victory” sign.

Many prominent left-wing politicians attended the rally, which was supported unofficially by the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement.

“Thank you, Italy,” Arafat declared. “I thank the government, which made this visit possible.”

Arafat came to Italy at the invitation of the government after meeting last week in Paris with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the president of France, Francois Mitterrand.

He was received in Rome by President Francesco Cossiga, Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti and Foreign Minister Gianni de Michelis.

The Israeli Embassy in Rome protested to the Foreign Ministry in advance of Arafat’s arrival last week, not only that he was an official guest but that the visit is “on the same level as a state visit.”

“Presenting Arafat as a man of peace, forgetting what he has done for the cause of terrorism not only doesn’t help the cause of peace, but perverts the political debate and obtains the opposite results,” the Israeli statement said.

Another protest came from Seymour Reich, president of B’nai B’rith International, who expressed “deep concern” about the prime minister’s meeting with Arafat.

Andreotti responded in a letter to Reich dated April 5 that “the approach Italy has constantly followed in its contacts with the PLO is based on a firm desire to help the parties in coming together with the goal of negotiations, while rejecting any recourse to violence.”

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