JERUSALEM (Oct. 17)
Palestinian leaders, outraged by remarks attributed to British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd in private conversations with Israeli officials, angrily called off a meeting with the visiting diplomat Wednesday.
Instead, they held a noontime news conference in East Jerusalem at which they accused the British minister of “hypocrisy” and a “double standard.”
An embarrassed Hurd called the incident “very regrettable” and insisted he was “completely misrepresented” by the Israeli news media.
Hurd, who arrived here Monday from Cairo, made a determined but fruitless effort to convince Israel to receive a special U.N. team to investigate the fatal Oct. 8 shooting of 21 Arabs by Israeli police on the Temple Mount.
He had separate meetings with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister David Levy. He also met Tuesday with members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
According to Israeli radio, television and press reports, he told them he firmly opposed a separate Palestinian state and that Israel must fix its borders in accordance with its security needs.
Radwan Abu Ayyash, head of the Palestinian Journalists Association and a prominent political figure in the administered territories, observed that there was no official, categorical denial of the Israeli media reports from the British side.
He said the statements attributed to Hurd undermined the twin pillars of Palestinian aspirations: a separate state and the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization as their sole legitimate representative.
Hurd, who held a news conference later in the afternoon, declined to point a finger of blame at the press or on the unnamed sources behind the story.
SPEAKS OF NEED FOR ‘SECURE BORDERS’
British sources indicated privately that they thought some Israeli right-wing politicians had, at the very least, “hyped up” the secretary’s remarks.
But Hurd’s efforts to “set the record straight” may have gotten him into deeper trouble with the Palestinians, political pundits said.
He said Britain believed the outcome of peace negotiations “must reflect the right of Israel to secure borders and the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”
“We do not argue for a separate Palestinian state,” he said. “Equally, we would not oppose it if this were the result agreed by the parties.”
Political observers predicted this formulation would not satisfy the PLO or local Palestinians, because it appears to give Israel an ultimate veto over a Palestinian state.
Hurd has been sharply critical of Israeli policies recently. But he bent over backwards during his first two days in Israel to mollify his hosts.
At his news conference, he said he was not backing away from his positions, but having made his points earlier he saw no need to repeat them while here in Israel.
He made a point of praising Israel’s “low profile” policy in the Persian Gulf crisis and referred to the “very real threat which Saddam Hussein presents to Israel.”