Arafat Remains a Terrorist, Israeli Official Says : As Proof, New Foreign Minister Arens Cites Threat Against Moderate Arabs
A threat by Yasser Arafat against Palestinians who propose a lull in the Arab uprising is proof that Arafat still clings to terrorism, Israel’s new foreign minister, Moshe Arens, said Tuesday as he once again rejected calls for talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Arens, who spoke at his first press conference since taking office two weeks ago, criticized both the United States and European countries for entering into talks with the PLO and said Israel would prefer isolation to changing its mind on the issue. The former Israeli ambassador to Washington promised that new peace proposals are on the way from Israel but have not yet been finalized.
Arens’ comments came in response to a Kuwait News Agency report from Saudi Arabia on Arafat’s position on the intifada, as the revolt is known in Arabic. According to the report, Arafat warned that “any Palestinian leader who proposes an end to the intifada exposes himself to the bullets of his own people.”
Mayor of Bethlehem
Arafat, the PLO’s chairman, mentioned no names, but the comment seemed to refer to Elias Freij, the longtime mayor of Bethlehem. On Christmas Day, Freij proposed a truce between Israel and the Palestinians who for more than a year have been fighting Israeli rule on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Upon being informed of Arafat’s warning, Freij, who is considered a leading moderate on the West Bank, withdrew his suggestion.
“The decision of the PLO does not support my proposal,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “I fully respect the decision of the PLO that the time is not right to make such a suggestion.”
Freij, an Arab Christian, insisted that his life is not in danger. “It’s not a threat. I didn’t do anything wrong. I made a suggestion in good faith.”
Arens, speaking in heavily American-accented English, took a harsher view. He accused Arafat of “threatening with extinction any Palestinian who talks about the possibility of a cessation of acts of violence.”
Pressed on whether Israel itself would make some positive gesture should leaders in the occupied land offer a truce, he replied: “I prefer not to address this specific question.
“We have already seen that anybody who voices opinions of this sort puts his life in danger because of the threat of terrorist action against them. I think at this point we better leave it as it is.”
Israel is not tempted to call a truce on its own, Arens added.
“The government of Israel doesn’t have to propose any truce because the government of Israel is not initiating any violence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza,” he said. Judea and Samaria are the biblical names for the West Bank region.
Arens is scheduled to travel to Paris this week to attend an international conference on chemical weapons. He is expected to meet with several European foreign ministers, a circumstance that will give him the chance to voice displeasure at their contacts with the PLO.
13-Year Ban Ended
Arafat has gained the ear of Western governments through his avowed renunciation of terrorism and his explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Last month, the United States ended a 13-year ban on public contact with the PLO, based in part on Arafat’s renunciation of terror.
“We are convinced that establishing contact or, worse yet, extending recognition to the PLO cannot possibly promote peace in the Middle East,” Arens declared. “It is bound to encourage extremism and further acts of violence.”
The owlish former aeronautical engineer made it clear that Israel will not follow the diplomatic trend.
“We should not be expected to take any step that might decrease the sense of isolation . . . if they are steps that would endanger the state of Israel,” he said.
Arens commented ironically on reports that Washington turned to the PLO for help in locating saboteurs who blew up a Pan American jet in the air over Scotland last month. “If we search the world for an organization that had experience and competence in terrorist acts, and especially in blowing up airplanes, you could probably not find a better address than the PLO and Mr. Arafat,” Arens remarked.
While on the subject of terrorism, Arens evaded a question about whether attacks on soldiers by rebellious Arabs fit Israel’s definition of terrorism.
“I think that when there is a deliberate attempt to kill civilians we are dealing with terrorism, regardless of where it takes place and regardless of under what circumstances it takes place,” he said, leaving aside the issue of clashes with the military.
The Israeli government has been promising to unveil a new peace formula since Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir took office for a new four-year term last month. On Tuesday, however, Arens spoke only of “interim arrangements” that might lead to resolution of the conflict. In Israeli political language, “interim arrangements” mean limited political and social autonomy for Arabs on the occupied land.
‘Will Take Some Time’
In any case, Arens said that new Israeli ideas will come slowly. “This is a process that will take some time,” he advised.
Arens took time out to reject proposals that would push Israel back to its borders that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel routed invading Arab armies and occupied both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The postwar frontiers gave Israel needed space for defense, Arens contended. “It is impossible to envisage the security of Israel without defensible borders,” he said.
Arens’ opening remarks to reporters took the form of a state-of-diplomacy message. While commenting adversely on foreign contacts with the PLO, he pointed to several bright spots in Israel’s relations abroad.
Despite Washington’s PLO contacts, he described relations with the United States as outstanding. He also said that Israel virtually considered itself a member of the European Community.
He said that Israel “appreciated” the permission to emigrate granted to Jews by the Soviet Union and hoped that it presaged renewed diplomatic ties between the two countries. “There seems good reason to expect significant improvements in the relationship between the two countries,” he said.
The Soviet Union broke relations with Israel after the Six-Day War.
Arens also expects to meet with China’s foreign minister in Paris. The Chinese also have no diplomatic links with Israel.
Arens will not be the only Israeli carrying on some form of diplomacy in the coming weeks. Four members of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, intend to travel to Europe soon to meet with officials of the PLO. The four Israelis are all considered left-wing doves.
“We have to speak to the Palestinians directly and reach peace with them through compromise,” said Knesset member Lova Eliav, a member of the center-left Labor Party. Labor is a junior partner in the Israeli ruling coalition led by Shamir’s rightist Likud Party.