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Europe trades political favors for Mideast oil

By James DorseySpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 18, 1980

The Hague

There is a growing consensus among West European politicians and diplomats that Europe is once again sacrificing political principles for economic advantages -- guaranteed Middle East oil supplies and access to the Middle East markets.

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They point to the fact that during the 1973 Arab oil boycott, the European Community suddenly discovered the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians."

Now Europe has moved to another new position: recognition of the "Palestinian right to self-determination." Representatives of European Jewish communities met March 16 in London to discuss ways of preventing a change in European attitudes toward the Palestine Liberation Organization. Speaking in a live interview from Abu Dhabi, French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing recently informed his people that they need not worry any more about their oil supplies. On an official visit to Kuwait a day earlier, Mr. Giscard became the first EC leader to accept the "Palestinian right to self-determination." Within 48 hours, Britain, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Luxembourg expressed their support for the French President.

By doing so they followed in the footsteps of Austria, Turkey, Spain, and Portugal -- Western countries that Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat had visited last year.

Thus, Europe appears to have fallen into the lap of the PLO without the Palestinians having conceded the state of Israel's right to exist. Last July the PLO launched its diplomatic campaign in Europe with Yasser Arafat's visit to Vienna. PLO executive committee member Ahmed Sidki Dajani promised then that " 1980 will be the year of Europe."

European officials and politicians criticized Austria's initiative for being "ill timed" and "politically unfortunate." But Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky stressed that the PLO's wish to be recognized as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" would not be honored without Palestinian concessions toward Israel.

Nevertheless, Austria last week became the first European country to give official diplomatic status to a PLO representative. Interviewed on Austrian national radio, however, Chancellor Kreisky described this move as a "new form of diplomatic recognition," implying that he had stopped short of full recognition of the PLO. But for both the Israeli government and the opposition Labor Party, Mr. Arafat's Vienna visit was the handwriting on the wall.

Last year France and West Germany had attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade the PLO to signal its willingness to recognize Israel's 1967 boundaries in exchange for European recognition.

Mr. Arafat and his associates, however, stuck to their vague promises that such a move would only be possible in the course of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. They pointed to the fragile balance of power within the Palestinian ranks and explained that they therefore wished to postpone the possibly bloody confrontation between radicals and moderates as long as possible.