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From The President Of Israel To The President Of Egypt, With Historical High Regard

October 01, 1989|Tad Szulc | Veteran Washington-based correspondent Tad Szulc has just returned from the Middle East

"Today," Herzog said, "the bulk of the casualties suffered by the Palestinians is caused by the Palestinians, not by Israel." In the course of this year, he added, more than 100 Palestinians were killed by Palestinians as alleged collaborators with Israel although "our security services tell me that at least 60% of their names are completely unknown to them."

Herzog remains suspicious of Arafat and he understands why Israelis are hesitant about "putting on the line the future of their children, their existence." The PLO leader, Herzog said, "is a man who never has kept his word, even to an Arab." He quoted Jordan's King Hussein to that effect and then said Arafat is rejected by many of his own constituents.

Arafat announced last December that the PLO recognized Israel's existence and renounced all forms of terrorism against it; he has been pressing ever since for direct PLO-Israel talks. Since December, the United States has had regular discussions on the peace process with the PLO and, last month, Arafat met with Mubarak three times to review peace initiatives advanced by Egypt's president.

Israeli Defense Minister Rabin also sat with Mubarak last month, later indicating that he went along with the Egyptian proposal for a preliminary Israeli-Arab meeting in Cairo, including Palestinians. As part of a 10-point plan, Mubarak has offered to appoint the Palestinian delegation, subject to Israeli approval. This is the issue that ruptures the current Likud-Labor government.

Herzog, while believing the process must not be paralyzed, said that Arafat's previous announcements "are not good enough." What must follow is elimination of sections in the PLO charter calling for the destruction of Israel. Israel's acceptance in the Middle East began after Egypt's late President Anwar Sadat made a breakthrough visit to Jerusalem in 1977. Herzog indicated that the PLO must now offer similar recognition to make itself credible in the peace process.

Yet Herzog is also critical of Israeli attitudes: "Our problem here is that we don't look at these things historically: We've got our face right up against the picture instead of moving back and seeing it in its proper perspective and proper dimensions."

He characterized Israeli posture as "a rather barren debate over whether you have to give up territories, not give up the territories, whether you talk to the PLO or not, and it has been to a degree a philosophical debate, an abstract debate." Now, Herzog said, "It has become a concrete debate because there are moves forward, especially with the involvement of the Egyptians."

He made a point, however, of hoping that "the major powers, especially the United States, do not push matters, but allow this debate to work itself out on both sides . . . because in the final analysis, they each are trying to reach their own conclusions."

During the past decade, in the new relationship with Egypt, Herzog said tens of thousands of Arabs visit Israel and tens of thousands of Israelis visit Egypt--to talk and to trade. "Sadat really rose above everything, above the tumult," Herzog said; "he gave the direction and he changed the entire atmosphere in the area."

And now, Herzog added, Mubarak "has achieved what nobody had believed would happen after the Israeli flag began flying over the Israeli embassy in Cairo--Egypt was received back in the Arab League with all the pomp and circumstance and dignity."

As Hussein has moved into the background, Mubarak has become the central figure for Arab-Israeli peace. Mubarak, according to Herzog, is the leader of the greatest Arab country, a "most impressive individual" who "has tremendous self-assurance--and with reason."

In Israel, Herzog emphasized, "there is an agonizing reappraisal going on to evaluate where we go from here." But the peace process, he insisted, is "irreversible."

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