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Israelis See Hopeful Signs for Themselves in Eastern Europe

January 22, 1990

JERUSALEM (AP) _ The anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe have yielded a bonanza for Israel in renewed diplomatic ties and the Israelis hope it also means the end of training and weapons support for Arab radicals.

New openings toward Israel by countries that once firmly backed the Arab cause ends a two-decade Soviet-bloc boycott of the Jewish state imposed by Moscow after the 1967 Middle East war.

On Sunday, Vice Premier Shimon Peres became the highest ranking Israeli since 1967 to visit Czechoslovakia.

″We are now opening a new page in our relations with Eastern Europe,″ said Yossi Ben-Aharon, a top aide to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Foreign Minister Gyula Horn of Hungary, who recently visited Jerusalem, described the changes as ″irreversible.″

″The old order cannot be restored,″ the Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying in an interview.

But it remains unclear whether the renewal of ties will translate into long-term diplomatic support for Israel in the Middle East conflict.

Horn indicated Hungary was more interested in flourishing economic ties than the Middle East conflict. However, he said he supported an international Middle East peace conference, a proposal accepted by the Arabs but staunchly rejected by Shamir.

″The Eastern Europe of today is not as pro-Palestinian as before, but if Israel continues its hard line toward the Palestinians, we cannot expect to win the support of these countries,″ said Moshe Zimmermann, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Palestinian analysts, meanwhile, acknowledged the Palestine Liberation Organization suffered a diplomatic setback in Eastern Europe because of its association with the overthrown communist dictators. They said the PLO faced an uphill struggle to win the support of the new leadership.

″The atmosphere is, to a certain extent, hostile to the Palestinians,″ said Ghassan Katib, a prominent Palestinian communist and West Bank university lecturer. ″We must establish a dialogue with the these new forces.″

Anti-Arab sentiment is especially strong in Romania where Arabs were identified in revolutionary quarters as fighting in the ranks of the hated Securitate secret police who sought to crush the popular uprising against dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

In the meantime, the new Eastern European leaders are knocking on Israel’s door to renew ties cut in 1967. In September, Hungary became the first. Poland and Czechoslovakia are expected to follow this spring. Romania never severed ties, although it supported and trained Arab guerrillas.

Israel never had relations with East Germany, but a senior Israeli official said such ties were expected if, as seems likely, the East Germans drop their refusal to accept moral responsibility for the Holocaust.

In light of East Germany’s economic problems, Israel would be satisfied with a token payment of reparations, the official said.

Eastern European leaders are mainly driven by the need to rescue their crippled economies, and Israel, a close ally of the United States, is seen as an important mediator.

″They believe Israel can pave the way for improved economic relations with the Western world,″ said Mark Heller, an analyst at Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

But Israel is also seen as an economic partner in its own right. Israeli exports to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union jumped to $100 million last year, up 70 percent from 1988.

The new Eastern European leaders, whose political survival depends in part on their ability to end food shortages at home, are especially interested in Israel’s agricultural know-how.

In December, the government-owned Israeli company Agridev signed a cooperation agreement with Bulgaria under which Israel will provide experts and equipment to run Bulgarian farms. A similar agreement is expected to be signed with Poland.

″In the past year, many doors have been opened, due to the changes in the political situation and the desire to supply enough food,″ said Amram Olmert, managing director of Agridev.

In addition to the diplomatic and economic windfalls, Israeli officials cite a third beneficial development: an end to state sponsorship of Palestinian terror squads.

In the past, the PLO and other Palestinian groups maintained close ties with Eastern Europe, especially Romania, Czechoslovakia and East Germany, which trained and armed hundreds of Palestinian guerrillas, according to Israeli intelligence sources.

″These countries provided training, weapons, served as host facilities for terrorist organizations and sometimes provided sabotage materials,″ said Heller.

Israeli intelligence officials noted that Eastern European support for Palestinian guerrilla groups has considerably dropped in the past year, a trend they expected to continue.

″I wouldn’t be surprised if that activity stopped completely,″ Heller said.

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