Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other government leaders scrambled to deny Thursday that Israel is maintaining officials contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization, through the United States or anyone else.
The issue arose from a remark made in Washington on Wednesday by John Kelly, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, who was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.
Asked by Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), the subcommittee chairman, if Israel was using the United States as a mediator with the PLO, Kelly said no.
But he said that it was no secret that some Israeli public figures have met with representatives of the PLO.
Kelly said there were reports from time to time of unofficial contacts, and some classified information on the subject. He said he would prefer to discuss such matters behind closed doors.
To many Israeli officials, that implied that there had been official Israeli contacts with the PLO.
The remarks, in short, sparked a whirlwind of rumors here that sent government officials scrambling to make denials.
U.S. ENVOY SAID TO BRIEF LEADERS
The chief of the Prime Minister’s Office, Yossi Ahimeir, said the prime minister was not knowingly involved in contacts with the PLO.
He said that Shamir does meet with West Bank Palestinians who are not connected with the PLO. But he conceded that the subject of those conversations could eventually reach the PLO in Tunis.
Ahimeir accused the PLO of making political capital by spreading rumors of contacts with Israelis.
Shimon Peres, who as vice premier is the second-ranking member of the coalition government, also denied official contacts with the PLO.
So did Danny Naveh, spokesman for Foreign Minister Moshe Arens. He announced Wednesday night that “there have been no contacts with the PLO, and there will be no contacts in the future.”
Israel Television said Thursday evening that U.S. Ambassador William Brown “reports constantly” to the Israeli government on American contacts with the PLO.
Shamir and Arens were said to have in formed Brown they were “not interested” in receiving the information.
But Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Labor Party leaders, continue to receive regular briefings, the television report said.
According to the news report, American officials convey Israeli reactions back to the PLO in Tunis.
The United States opened a dialogue with the PLO last December. The U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau, is the only American diplomat authorized to have official contacts with the PLO. He has had several formal sessions, as well as informal talks, with PLO representatives.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.