U.S. Holocaust Museum Scuttles Visit by Arafat

From the Washington Post

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, persuaded by Clinton administration officials to pay a groundbreaking visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum here next week, angrily canceled the plan after museum officials rebuffed his overture.

Conceived as a gesture of reconciliation by Aaron Miller, U.S. deputy special envoy to the Mideast, Arafat’s visit would have been the first to the exhibition on Nazi genocide by a major Arab leader and a highly symbolic acknowledgment of the defining event of the century for many Jews. By the time plans for the visit had fallen apart Friday, the episode had become the latest irritant in the faltering talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Arafat will be in Washington for talks Thursday with President Clinton, who will also meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week in an effort to inject new urgency into the Mideast leaders’ stalled negotiations. Miller and his superior, Dennis B. Ross, both of whom serve on the panel that functions as the Holocaust museum’s board of directors, suggested the visit to Arafat through intermediaries after believing that they had won the consent of Miles Lerman, a death camp survivor who chairs the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.


But museum sources said members of the American Jewish community warned Lerman and museum Director Walter Reich that “this is Hitler incarnate,” as one official put it, and must not be welcomed in the memorial to Hitler’s victims. When Lerman and Reich informed Arafat that he could visit the museum only as an individual, without the special measures for security and protocol routinely accorded world leaders, Arafat struck the visit from his schedule.

Lerman, reached at his New Jersey home, said the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks still profoundly divide U.S. and world Jewry and “we believe the museum should not get involved in a political dispute where half of the people are for something and half are against it.”

“If and when the day will come when peace will be established between the state of Israel and the Palestinians, then we will be more than happy to receive Arafat as a leader and celebrate that achievement,” Lerman said.

Among Arafat’s advisors, ever sensitive to loss of face, a sense of grievance prevailed Friday.

“We didn’t create this idea,” Nabil abu Irdineh, who notified Arafat of the snub late Thursday, said from the West Bank city of Nablus. “He said yes. They are saying no. It’s as simple as that.”