Rabin, Arafat Meet in Attempt to Alleviate New Tensions
Still basking in public approval of his first open trip to Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin returned Wednesday to his hard-slogging negotiations on Palestinian self-rule with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
A meeting between the two leaders at the Erez checkpoint was billed as a chance to discuss the myriad problems Arafat faces as he tries to build a government in the Gaza Strip and Jericho.
But Rabin aides said the session was really intended to reassure the Palestinian leader that Israel has not abandoned him in favor of King Hussein of Jordan.
Relations between Israel and the Palestinians have grown tense since Hussein decided to speed up his negotiations with Israel. Arafat has fretted publicly about a provision in last month’s Washington declaration ending the 46-year state of war between Israel and Jordan; the accord included language recognizing a special role for Jordan in protecting Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites.
Arafat also has complained to interviewers that his government is broke and that promised aid from international donors has failed to materialize. He has described himself as “in despair” and warned that the experiment in Palestinian self-rule is in danger of collapsing without more cooperation from Israel and the international community.
Rabin told reporters after Wednesday’s session that Palestinian and Israeli negotiators will continue talks next Monday on transferring more authority from Israel to the Palestinians in the territories and on speeding up preparations for the first Palestinian elections.
Israel tried to improve the atmosphere for the talks by releasing eight female Palestinian prisoners just hours before the two leaders met. Arafat described the session as “positive” when speaking to reporters with Rabin afterward.
But Arafat was bombarded with questions from Israeli reporters about a statement reportedly made by Farouk Kaddoumi, the PLO’s foreign minister, in a radio speech Monday. Kaddoumi reportedly said on PLO radio’s last broadcast from Tunis, Tunisia: “There is a state which was established through historical force and it must be destroyed. This is the Palestinian way. They seized our land. The refugees must return to their land.”
Arafat refused to condemn the statement, although Rabin said that “it is inconceivable that the issue will be treated lightly.”
Rabin said Kaddoumi’s apparent call for the destruction of Israel contradicts the agreement--signed on Sept. 13, 1993, between Israel and the PLO--that granted limited self-rule to Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied territory.
Israel and Jordan are said to be close to an agreement on granting passage of civilian flights through each other’s airspace; their tourism ministers are set to meet soon to discuss international marketing of package tours to both nations. Israeli tourists carrying passports from some other nations are already being welcomed in Jordan.
The contrast between Rabin’s evident delight on Monday in dealing with Hussein--Rabin dined with him at the king’s summer palace in Aqaba, then joined him for a cruise in the Gulf of Aqaba--and his strictly business approach to Arafat was commented on this week by Israeli pundits.
“Arafat feels neglected, pushed aside by Israel and the international community and left on his own to tread the very uncelebratory alleyways of the autonomy,” opined Shlomo Ginossaur in the left-of-center daily Davar. “Arafat would rather see Rabin smiling and generous, and Rabin would rather see Arafat shaven, his head uncovered, wearing a normal civilian suit, expressing himself in fluent English like his majesty the royal highness.”