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Arafat Seeks Arab League Support for Peace Pact : Mideast: Leaders greet PLO chief with lukewarm applause. He pledges solidarity in drive to free Israeli-occupied lands.


CAIRO — To a subdued reception reflecting the Arab world's deep misgivings, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat sought backing Sunday from the Arab League for his peace agreement with Israel and pledged solidarity to force Israel to withdraw from all occupied Arab lands.

Standing before the disparate, quarreling body of Arab nations that has alternately ignored the Palestinians and backed them through 45 years of conflict, Arafat raised his clasped hands in salute and pleaded his case for what many Arabs have viewed as a premature peace pact with Israel.

"Our Arab nation at this historic point needs to transcend the past, with all its pains and hardships, and face the future more strong and united, so our nation can deal strongly with the new world order as it is being crystallized, and so that it will not be at the expense of our people," Arafat said.

Arab leaders, who greeted the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman with only lukewarm applause, took the opportunity to review again the myriad disputes that still divide the Arab world at a time when peace with Israel may be at hand.

"At a time of Arab-Israeli reconciliation, is it not high time that we should have Arab-Arab reconciliation? This is the question which must motivate us. We must be up to the level of the demand," declared Esmat Abdel-Meguid, secretary general of the league, which is still deeply troubled by the effects of the Gulf War.

Arab League officials also indicated they would not hurry to meet American urgings to lift the four-decade economic boycott against Israel with the signing of the Palestinian peace agreement.

Adnan Omran, deputy Arab League chief, said in an interview that the American push to lift the boycott is hampering attempts to make further moves toward peace with Israel.

"They are destroying chances for real success of whatever is happening, because if you deliver everything and you just have Israel getting every card from the other side, without even a withdrawal, this is madness," he said. "You are pushing Arab countries to the point of surrender without getting anything in return. This will only make peace more difficult."

Arafat's visit came as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin arrived in Egypt for a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the first step after last week's signing of the peace pact to begin work toward implementing it in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Rabin was said to be seeking Egypt's help in bringing other Arab countries toward similar peace agreements with Israel, especially Syria, which has been cool to the Palestinian pact and at a standoff in its own negotiations over the issue of Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Both leaders emerged from several hours of meetings in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria optimistic about the prospects for moving forward on negotiations with Syria.

"Why are you so pessimistic that Syria is going to be so late to reach an agreement on a declaration of principles, as the Palestinians did?" Mubarak said to reporters. "I don't think that. I think Syrians genuinely want peace, genuinely want to solve the problem, and I hear this from President (Hafez) Assad several times."

Assad is tentatively scheduled to meet with Mubarak in Egypt later this week.

Rabin said Israel is "committed" to continuing negotiations toward a peace treaty with Syria but emphasized that his first priority is implementing the agreement with the Palestinians, which calls for early Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho and eventual Palestinian self-rule throughout the occupied territories.

"At this stage I see the key issue as good implementation of the agreements that we've reached with the Palestinians," he said. "I believe we need the support not only of the international community, we rely on the support of Egypt . . . and other Arab countries and other organizations (that) Arab countries can influence to create the kind of atmosphere that will facilitate implementation of the agreement. This is the key issue now."

Arafat was doing his own wooing of the Arabs on Sunday, emphasizing that he remains committed to the issues of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements and Israeli occupation of all Arab lands, not just Palestinian.

At the same time, he attempted to justify the Palestinians' move to broker an early peace settlement with Israel by emphasizing the slow pace of the official negotiations in Washington at a time when Palestinians in the occupied lands are suffering and the Gaza Strip "had reached the level of famine."

"Our talks with the Israeli delegation in Washington had reached a dead end because of a retreat from the principles upon which the peace process began. . . . In actual fact, the talks collapsed," Arafat said. "We proceeded to respond positively to some of the side efforts and other channels that helped us exit from this dead end in order to try and break the deadlock."

But Arafat emphasized: "The agreement which we have reached, dear brothers, is only a starting step to laying down a transitional solution, which must be based on the withdrawal of occupation . . . from our territories and holy Jerusalem. . . . Comprehensive peace can only be realized through a final solution and the establishment of similar solutions for all Arab areas."

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