Israelis Reject PLO’s Statehood Declaration : Don’t Dismiss New ‘Flexibility,’ Arafat Urges U.S., Jerusalem

Times Staff Writer

Declaring that he now has a mandate to negotiate for peace, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat appealed to the United States and Israel on Tuesday not to dismiss “the moderation, flexibility and realism” that he said the PLO is ready to show in its quest to win recognition for a Palestinian state.

Addressing a news conference, Arafat called on the world, and particularly the West, to support the declaration of an independent Palestinian state issued hours earlier in Algiers by the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s so-called parliament in exile.

“The PNC has given me a mandate to pursue a political settlement (of the Arab-Israeli dispute) and to secure the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and statehood,” the Palestine Liberation Organization leader said. “But we are not begging for peace. We are seeking it on an equal footing with the other parties concerned.”


The Arab nations of Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Tunisia, Saudia Arabia, Yemen, South Yemen and Mauritania quickly recognized the new Palestinian state, whose “independence” was proclaimed early Tuesday morning at the emotional and tumultuous climax of an intensive, often acrimonious, three-day debate by the PLO leadership and most of the council membership.

Singapore, Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia also recognized the new state, which the Palestinians hope will someday become a reality in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Launching what is expected to be an intensive PLO diplomatic campaign for wider recognition, Arafat referred to the political manifesto adopted by the Palestinian council, which called for the convening of an international peace conference to settle the Arab-Israeli dispute on the basis of U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338.

Resolution 242, passed by the U.N. Security Council in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, implicitly recognizes Israel’s right to exist and has served as the basis for all U.S. peace-making efforts in the region since then. Resolution 338, passed after the 1973 Middle East War, reaffirms 242. Until now, the PLO had resisted endorsing the two key resolutions.

Arafat asserted that, in endorsing the two resolutions, the PLO had finally demonstrated “the moderation, flexibility and realism that the West has been asking us to show” and said it is now up to the United States and Israel to do the same.

“We feel that the ball is now in the American court,” Arafat said.

‘Positive Step’

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said the council’s acceptance of Resolution 242 was “a positive step.” But he made it clear that Washington rejects the Palestinian declaration of independence.


“The status of the West Bank and Gaza cannot be determined by unilateral acts of either side, but only through a process of negotiations,” Redman said. “A declaration of independent Palestinian statehood is such a unilateral act.”

Redman and White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said no one in the Reagan Administration has had a chance to read the Palestinian council’s statements. They said the full text will be studied carefully before the Administration issues a formal reaction.

“The United States position on the PLO is unchanged,” Fitzwater said. “The United States will not recognize nor negotiate with the PLO so long as it does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and does not accept U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. In addition, we see no place in the peace process for those who have not renounced terrorism and violence.”

“This is the ‘ intifada session’ of the PNC,” Arafat said at the Algiers press conference, using the Arabic word for the 11-month-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“But it could also be the session of peace, if the U.S. and Israel wish. . . ,” he continued. “While the intifada escalates, I declare we are willing, we are ready, to negotiate peace through an international conference under U.N. auspices.”

Arafat Praises Bush

Arafat, who is seeking to open a dialogue with the United States in order to maneuver the PLO into the Middle East peace process after the new Bush Administration takes office, praised the President-elect’s initially positive, if cautious, reaction to the PLO’s new political program as a “constructive development.”

But he also urged Israel not to dismiss the program out of hand, warning that, if it does so, he may be forced to declare before the next session of the Palestine National Council that “moderation does not pay.”

Acceptance of Resolution 242 and the renunciation of violence are the two main conditions that every U.S. Administration since Richard M. Nixon’s has set as a prerequisite for talking to the PLO.

Although the PLO, in the manifesto that accompanied its declaration of Palestinian independence, took a significant step toward fulfilling those two conditions, it was clear that its manner of accepting Resolution 242 still stops short of meeting the U.S. requirements unconditionally.

In calling for an international peace conference on the Middle East, the manifesto says it should be convened on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338 “along with guarantees for the national and legal rights of the Palestinian people, starting with the right of self-determination. . . . “

This language was meant to redress what the Palestinians have always regarded as 242’s main deficiency: its treatment of the Palestinian question as a refugee problem without taking into account the demand for statehood.

But it also indicated that the PLO is not accepting the resolution without a quid pro quo--namely participation in a peace process that leads to the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“No,” replied Zehdi Labib Terzi, the PLO’s observer at the United Nations, when asked if the manifesto’s endorsement of Resolution 242 meant that the PLO is now finally recognizing Israel. “Without recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, there is no recognition of Israel.”

While some PLO moderates concede that this position may not satisfy the United States, they argue that the PLO cannot be expected to unilaterally recognize Israel when Israel refuses to talk to, let alone recognize, the PLO and when it continues to treat the 1.5 million Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a people without political or national rights.

These officials also note with bitterness that the PLO remains typecast as a fanatical and pariah organization in the eyes of the West when in fact, they say, its position toward Israel has evolved and mellowed considerably more than Israel’s has toward the Palestinians.

“Ten years ago, no one in the PLO was willing to speak about Israel’s right to exist, but now we not only recognize that--we speak of recognition and coexistence and of settling for a Palestinian state in less than 20% of what used to be Palestine,” one member of the Palestine National Council said.

In contrast, Israel’s adamant attitude toward the Palestinians has not changed over a similar period of time, and with a new right-wing government led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir about to take power, it may even regress, he said.

Times staff writer Norman Kempster in Washington contributed to this article.