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Arens Inquiry About PLO Stance Draws Fire from Left and Right

December 13, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens became embroiled in controversy this week, as he tried to clarify the extent to which Egypt has been representing the Palestine Liberation Organization’s positions to the United States.

Arens came under fire from both the left and the right, after expressing interest in what Egypt had said about the PLO in its official reply last week to Secretary of State James Baker’s five-point proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

The storm erupted after Arens told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that he asked Baker about the PLO’s position on the five-point plan, as communicated by Egypt.

He explained that he wanted to find out if Egypt was no more than a messenger for the PLO, which, if the case, was unacceptable.

Foreign Ministry sources said later that Arens expressed no interest in the PLO’s views, but merely checked with Baker to see if he was aware of the PLO’s reply.

But in Washington, State Department officials said Tuesday that the Egyptian response did not attempt to convey the PLO’s position. It merely referred to an unofficial position paper on the Baker plan that the PLO sent Dec. 1 to the U.S. ambassador in Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau.

According to State Department sources, that paper seeks a number of assurances, including a request that any Palestinian delegation that is to conduct preliminary talks with Israel include Palestinians from East Jerusalem and at least two Palestinians from outside Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


Arens is due in Washington in about three weeks for talks with Baker and Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid about setting up such a dialogue, which would take place in Cairo early next year.

To Knesset committee members on both the left and right, Arens’ inquiry about the PLO was a deviation from Israel’s position that the PLO’s views are of no interest, since Israel will never accept the PLO as a negotiating partner.

Yossi Sarid of the opposition leftist Citizens Rights Movement put it bluntly to Arens. “By asking the secretary of state what the PLO said, aren’t you deviating from government policy?” he asked.

Deputy Prime Minister David Levy, a hardliner from Arens’ own Herut faction of Likud, muttered angrily that the very question put by the foreign minister amounted to a “serious breach” of government policy and decision.

Labor Knesset member Uzi Baram asked Arens, “Why do you pretend that Egypt conveys messages in her name, and that the Egyptian reply has no connection with the PLO?

“We all know that Egypt is only the mailman who conveys the message to the Americans. If this causes a crisis, say so and don’t insult our intelligence by maintaining the Egyptian reply is an independent one,” Baram said.

In response, Arens stressed that if Egypt does not undertake a role independent from the PLO, Israel will seek “other channels to advance the peace process.”

(JTA Washington correspondent Howard Rosenberg contributed to this report.)

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