JERUSALEM — PLO leader Yasser Arafat, in his first interview with an Israeli newspaper in 10 years, said Friday that he would be willing to meet Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to talk peace.
Arafat, whose remarks were published in the respected daily Haaretz, also said that Israel has nothing to fear from offering Palestinians the right of return--an issue the Jewish state has refused to discuss.
Arafat, interviewed in Tunisia, described Rabin's June election victory over hard-liner Yitzhak Shamir as a "vote for peace," but he criticized him for continuing what he called Shamir's policy of "indirect negotiations" with the PLO.
"If you (Israel) ignore the principal body, nothing will be settled. It is like giving an aspirin to a cancer patient," he told Israeli journalist Uri Avnieri.
Asked if he would meet Rabin, Arafat replied: "I'm ready. Is he ready?"
Asked what he would tell the Israeli leader, Arafat said, "I would tell him one thing: 'Come and let's make a just peace, for the sake of our children and your children.' " He was evasive when asked whether he would meet Rabin in Jerusalem.
Rabin's spokesman, Gad Ben-Ari, refused to comment on the interview. All Israeli governments, including Rabin's, have considered the Palestine Liberation Organization a terrorist group and refused to negotiate with it.
Arafat said Palestinians have a right to return to their homes. "The U.N. resolution (General Assembly Resolution 194) speaks of return (of Palestinian exiles) or compensation. The problem has to be put on the table and discussed," he said.
But adding a word of reassurance, he asked: "In North Africa, in Europe, many Palestinians live well. Will they want to return?"
The United States earlier this year reaffirmed its support for Resolution 194, passed after the 1948 Middle East War.
But Washington also said the basis for Middle East peace talks were later Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which enshrine the principle of trading land for peace but do not mention a Palestinian right of return.
Israel refuses to discuss the issue, fearing that Palestinians who once lived within Israel's pre-1967 Middle East War borders would return to their former homes.
Israel captured the West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem, from Jordan, the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war.