Arafat Says He’s Seeking a Multi-Party Palestine
Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, in a diplomatic overture to Europe, declared Tuesday that he is working toward the creation of a multi-party Palestinian state but stopped far short of declaring a provisional government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Arafat’s remarks, his first since Jordan’s King Hussein severed all ties to the West Bank on July 31, appeared to give another hint at the PLO’s readiness to recognize Israel, or to accept its existence, in exchange for the establishment of the Palestinian state.
Speaking at a closed meeting of Socialist members of the European Parliament, Arafat said he would agree, at a U.N.-sponsored peace conference, to international guarantees for “all the states” of the Mideast--implicitly including Israel.
Arafat called on Western Europe “to join the action” in pressing for a solution to the Palestinian problem through an international conference, rather than being content with “the role of spectator.”
He indicated that he could accept U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for the peace conference, which would be attended by permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and “all parties to the conflict in the region, including the PLO and Israel.”
Resolution 242 calls on Israel to withdraw from territories captured in the Six-Day War of 1967 and implicitly recognizes the Jewish state’s right to exist. Resolution 338, adopted as an outgrowth of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, calls for a cease-fire in the Middle East and implementation of Resolution 242.
“We are working to set up an independent Palestinian state on the land liberated from Israeli occupation,” Arafat said in his speech, a text of which was provided to journalists.
In an attempt to distance his cause from one-party Arab dictatorships, he said a Palestinian state would have a “republican, democratic and multi-party system” and would not discriminate “on the basis of color, race or religion.”
‘Historic’ Address Promised
The speech appeared to fall short of the “historic” turning point in PLO policy that Arafat’s aides had promised in recent weeks that he would unveil, and many in the audience said they viewed the address as a moderate one.
Reacting suspiciously to their longtime adversary, spokesmen for Israel’s government said they see nothing new in Arafat’s speech.
The officials said they consider his comments too vague to be taken seriously, although the foreign minister’s office said it will wait to see what decisions the PLO might reach when the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s self-styled “parliament in exile,” meets later this fall.
In Washington, a State Department official described Arafat’s speech as “the old Palestinian two-step” because the PLO leader smothered his implicit recognition of Israel under a blanket of conditions.
No Provisional Government
At one point recently, it had appeared that Arafat might go so far as to declare a provisional government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although he did not do so Tuesday.
Originally, PLO officials had indicated that the speech might outline a more ambitious peace plan meant to appeal to the West--in particular, to the United States and to at least the centrist half of Israel’s divided coalition government.
But those predictions began to dissipate about two weeks ago, and PLO and other officials say there appear to be two main reasons for the turnaround.
One is that disagreements between moderates and hard-liners within the PLO have left the organization unsure as to how to proceed.
‘Bold, Decisive Steps’
Moderate groups within the PLO, which include Arafat’s own Fatah faction, have been arguing that the organization needs to take “bold and decisive steps” to respond to the intifada, as the 9-month-old Arab uprising in the occupied territories is known, and to fill the political vacuum created by Hussein’s disengagement.
Their plan calls for coupling the formation of a provisional government for the occupied territories with a peace initiative aimed at winning international support for a Palestinian state.
Hard-liners, who include George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, strongly object to this, however. And while Fatah officials here insist that the plan is still on track, the leadership now appears to be hesitating.
The other reason for the delay stems from the PLO’s apparent failure, over the past several weeks, to drum up any international support for its peace initiative or for the formation of a provisional government.
Radicals Are Opposed
Syria, Libya and other radical Arab states are steadfastly opposed to the plan, while moderates such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia remain lukewarm at best.
Nevertheless, Arafat said Tuesday that a provisional government is necessary to claim sovereignty over an independent Palestinian state in the wake of Hussein’s move.
“All those who believe truly in a peace based on justice . . . have been astonished by the extreme hostility of the Israeli reactions to the consequences of the Jordanian measure and to the tendency to proclaim Palestinian national independence and to create a provisional government of the future Palestinian state,” he said.
The Palestinian state, he said, would be formed on “land liberated from Israeli occupation,” which he indicated would be limited to the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Excluded would be areas within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
Through negotiations, Arafat said, it would be possible “to discuss the agreement on arrangements for international guarantees of peace among all the states of the region, including the independent Palestinian state.”
But he added, “Today our people are confronting the iron-fist policy and the Israel war machine with stones; children and youths, creating the image of a Palestinian David pitted against a Goliath armed to the teeth with the latest means of warfare and destruction.”
Arafat’s first official visit to France prompted public demonstrations Tuesday in normally placid Strasbourg. In the morning, Jewish groups protested the invitation to the PLO chief, and in the afternoon pro-PLO groups showed their support for him.
Arafat was not officially invited by the 12-nation European Parliament; the invitation was issued privately by the Parliament’s so-called Socialist Group, which includes Socialists, Social Democrats, Communists and members of the environmental Greens parties. He is to address other members of the European Parliament today.
‘Rehash of Old Theories’
In Israel, Avi Pazner, spokesman for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, said of Arafat’s address: “It’s a rehash of old theories of the PLO that ultimately aim at destroying Israel. Arafat has made his position clear that there is no change in the ultimate plan of the PLO.”
Added Alon Liel, spokesman for Shimon Peres, the country’s more dovish foreign minister: “So far, nothing new. We will still wait to see if there is some decision later on. These are, after all, just declarations.”
That both Shamir’s and Peres’ offices shared essentially the same view reflected two things--the generalized mistrust of Arafat and the diplomatic language in which the PLO leader couched his speech. Meanwhile, Arafat’s failure to unequivocally accept Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 saved the Reagan Administration from the embarrassment of having to reassess its Middle East policy in the midst of an election campaign.
Vow by Kissinger
More than a decade ago, then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger promised Israel that Washington would never deal with the PLO until the guerrilla organization accepts the U.N. resolutions, renounces terrorism and acknowledges Israel’s right to exist. Each Administration since then has reiterated those principles.
U.S. officials said earlier that if the PLO ever met the Kissinger test, Washington would have little choice but to react in some way, either by lifting its ban on relations with the PLO or by changing the conditions. Either step would be hotly controversial.
Times staff writers Michael Ross in Tunis, Norman Kempster in Washington and Daniel Williams in Jerusalem contributed to this story.