Arafat Reportedly Proposes Peace Talks with Israel
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat proposed direct peace talks with the government of the Jewish state, Israel Television said Wednesday.
Government officials flatly rejected the unprecedented message to Israeli leaders.
Arafat’s call for negotiations appeared to be an implicit recognition by the PLO of Israel’s right to exist, a key point of contention between the two sides.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s spokesman, Avi Pazner, was quoted by Israel Television as saying that ″the PLO is not a side in any sort of negotiations.″
Zachi Hagegbi, director of Shamir’s office, called the message ″a public relations ploy from a terrorist organization seeking to legitimize itself.″ He told Israel radio there was ″no chance″ Shamir would accept it.
Yossi Beilin, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, said he doubted Arafat’s sincerity.
It was not immediately clear whether the message contained a PLO promise to reject terrorism, a key Israeli demand, Israel Television said.
Charlie Biton, one of four Israeli legislators who met Arafat this week in Geneva, said the message was given to him personally earlier this week by the PLO leader.
The legislators were part of a 35-member Israeli delegation attending a United Nations conference on Palestinian demands for an independent homeland.
Biton wouldn’t disclose the contents of the message and only described it as representing ″historical ... unprecedented progress″ in Middle East peace contacts.
The television report said the message apparently expressed Arafat’s readiness to hold negotiations with Israel within any framework, ″be it an international (peace) conference proposed by Peres or direct talks proposed by Shamir.″
The Hadashot daily newspaper said Wednesday the message was a ″concrete proposal″ for peace talks.
Arafat indicated in a speech to the U.N. conference Monday he would accept two U.N. resolutions that implicitly recognize Israel.
Beilin, political director of Peres’ office, accused Arafat of saying ″whatever sounds good to the audience he’s addressing.″
Hanegbi told Israel radio that the legislators who met with Araft did so in violation of Israeli law. He said he would support a police investigation of their action.
Israeli law defines the PLO as a terrorist organization and prohibits contact between Israelis and the PLO. The law carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
Four other Israelis are standing trial on charges of violating the law by meeting PLO leaders last year.
Also Wednesday, an Israeli military court in Lod sentenced Arafat’s personal bodyguard to three years in prison for being a PLO member.
Hassad Akhmed Ali Abu Louz, 39, pleaded guilty to the charges. He was one of 10 Palestinians sentenced for membership in the outlawed organization.
The 10 were aboard a ship seized by the Israeli naval patrol in February 1987 as it carried PLO fighters from Cyprus to Lebanon.
The other defendants were given prison terms ranging from one to four years.