Arafat defends pact with Israel to Arab League Reception quiet as PLO chief pleads solidarity


CAIRO, Egypt -- To a subdued reception reflecting the Arab world's deep misgivings, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat sought backing yesterday 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, Mr. 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," Mr. Arafat said.

Arab leaders, who greeted Mr. Arafat with 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," said Esmat Abdel-Meguid, secretary-general of the league, which is still deeply troubled by the effects of the Persian Gulf war.

Arab League officials also indicated they would not hurry to meet U.S. urgings to lift the 4-decade-old economic boycott against Israel with the signing of the Palestinian peace agreement.

Mr. 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 agreement to begin work toward carrying out its provisions for Palestinian self-rule in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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

The two leaders emerged from several hours of meetings in the 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?" Mr. Mubarak asked 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 el] Assad several times."

The one-day visit was Mr. Rabin's third summit with Mr. Mubarak since the Israeli leader took office in July 1992. Egypt, the only Arab country that has a peace treaty with Israel, has been instrumental in mediating between Israel and other Arab states.

"We will try and reach a solution between Israel and Syria," Mr. Mubarak said. "It is not a miracle. I don't think it will take more than a few months" for the neighboring enemies to reach agreement.

Mr. Assad, in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper, said he was angry that Mr. Arafat negotiated an accord with Israel secretly but said Syria would continue peace talks with Israel.

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