PLO leader Yasser Arafat will pay his first official visit to France in May for talks with President Francois Mitterrand, Foreign Affairs Minister Roland Dumas said Sunday.
The Israeli government and most French Jews were bitter about the decision to receive someone they regard as a terrorist, and protest demonstrations are planned.
Mitterrand had previously declared his intention to meet Arafat in France this year. Dumas, in a radio interview, confirmed that the visit will take place in “the first days of May. It is an official visit since it has been organized by the head of state.”
Arafat came to France last year, but as a guest of the European Parliament in the eastern city of Strasbourg.
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s drive for international respectability has gathered speed since last December when it recognized Israel’s right to exist and rejected terrorism. Arafat has met the Pope and Western European leaders, but the official visit to France, one of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, represents a major diplomatic coup.
Dumas was at pains to reassure France’s Jewish community, whose 500,000 members make it the largest in Europe outside the Soviet Union. "(The Jewish community) knows that France has always been the close friend of Israelis. . . . But we think that at the same time we must take into account the reality of the Palestinian people.”
The visit also disturbed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. “I take a grave view of this,” he told Israel Radio.