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Congressman Who Met with Arafat in Cairo Suggests U.s.-plo Discussions

July 19, 1977
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Rep. Lee Hamilton (D.Ind.) confirmed here today that he met with Yasir Arafat in Cairo last week and got the impression that the PLO chief “accepts Israel” and is willing to live in peace with it. Hamilton, who is chairman of the House International Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, also suggested that the U.S. should initiate discussions with the PLO although he did not regard Arafat as “the only Palestinian leader we ought to contact.”

Hamilton was a member of a Congressional group that visited the Middle East this month and met with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Hafez Assad of Syria, King Hussein of Jordan and Premier Menachem Begin of Israel. He said all of the Arab leaders expressed” a strong desire for peace” and a “willingness to go to Geneva.”

Hamilton described Arafat as “a friendly and courteous man” who is “passionately committed to the Palestinian cause” and “speaks strongly of Palestinian suffering.” But he characterized Arafat’s statements as “circuitous” and stressed that the PLO leader’s views were inferred rather than explicit.


“I have the impression that he (Arafat) said in a variety of ways he had come to accept the State of Israel,” Hamilton told reporters at a press conference. He said that he also gained the impression that any Palestinian state would be “satisfactory” to Arafat. “I think he has come to the view that the best he could achieve is a mini-state,” Hamilton said.

But Hamilton reported that Arafat finds UN Security Council Resolution 242 “objectionable” because it contains no reference to the Palestinian people, only to refugees. He said that “whoever eventually talks to Mr. Arafat is going to have to be a very patient negotiator.” Hamilton said his meeting with Arafat was at the latter’s request and was arranged by a third party whom he did not identify.


Hamilton said that the Congressional group “tried to get the Arabs to focus on what constitutes normalization of relations” with Israel. “I think Arab leaders are just beginning to become forth-coming,” he said. He said they did not like the concept of a trade-off. “Although they all insisted on total withdrawal” of Israel from the occupied territories, “as you talk with them you get the impression they are more flexible than that,” Hamilton said.

He said the “Arab leaders would be disappointed” with any resumption of step-by-step diplomacy without the fixed goal of complete Israeli withdrawal. He said “The Arab leaders have great confidence in the ability of the U.S. to pull off a settlement” but “any settlement is going to come hard and come slow.”

Hamilton stressed the importance of reconvening the Geneva conference. He warned that if that is not done this year there will be “a loss of U.S. credibility” in the Arab world “that would have a significant impact over a period of time.” He also said he agreed with the positions of previous administrations that the U.S. should facilitate a Mideast agreement but not impose a solution. He said the U.S. should say to Israel we are “sincerely interested” in its viability and are prepared to give Israel security assurances in return for which “we hope for Israeli flexibility.”

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