WASHINGTON (Sep. 14)
As he made the rounds in Washington following the signing this week of the historic accord on Palestinian self-rule, Yasser Arafat was enjoying himself.
From the halls of Capitol Hill to the august ballroom of the National Press Club, the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman, clad in military-style suit and his trademark checkered kaffiyeh, was treated like any world leader who had just completed a successful diplomatic maneuver.
At the conclusion of his well-received luncheon speech in the press club ballroom Tuesday, club President Clayton Boyce handed him a certificate of appreciation, which Arafat, with a big grin on his face, held up for all to see.
Boyce also gave the PLO leader a press club mug and a photography book to audience applause.
Before leaving the podium, Arafat clasped both hands over his head in a victory gesture.
The entire picture was somewhat surreal, considering that just a week earlier, Arafat and anyone else connected to the PLO would not even have been allowed into Washington because of their longtime ties to terrorism.
But with the landmark agreement for Palestinian self-rule having been solemnized Monday on the world’s collective television set, it was clear that Arafat was attempting to present himself in a new light to Washington’s power brokers.
Repeatedly in the course of his speech, he said that the Palestinians were beginning a new era, “opening a new page with open hearts.”
He glossed over some of the serious issues still facing Palestinians and Israelis, such as the future status of Jerusalem, saying, “If there is a will, there is a way.”
SAYS PALESTINIANS NEED LOAN GUARANTEES
Flanked by Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi and PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo, Arafat received numerous ovations from his listeners, who also laughed at a number of his rejoinders to the questions posed by the audience and read by moderator Boyce.
At one point, he said he would definitely tell the U.S. Congress that the Palestinians were “in need of loan guarantees,” clearly a reference to the $10 billion in loan guarantees provided by the United States to Israel over a five-year period.
When asked why Jewish people should trust him now, he responded by saying that many people did not originally trust Jesus. He added that Jews and Moslems were “cousins,” having both descended from the biblical Abraham.
Arafat spent a good part of the day on Capitol Hill, trying to seek support from congressional leaders for implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
From members of Congress, long wary of him, Arafat said he had received “promises they would do their best.”
Large sums of money will be necessary to raise living conditions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, where the autonomy plan is to be implemented first. Among the countries considered possible donors are Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states and Japan.
After an afternoon on Capitol Hill, Arafat was to travel to New York to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.