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Digital Archive International History Declassified

December 15, 1988

MEMORANDUM OF A CONVERSATION BETWEEN ERICH HONECKER AND YASSER ARAFAT IN BERLIN

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    The conversation focuses on the PLO's recent attempts to reach an agreement concerning the conflict in the Middle East. Arafat informs Honecker about his efforts to gain support for his initiative from the US and other countries.
    "Memorandum of a Conversation between Erich Honecker and Yasser Arafat in Berlin," December 15, 1988, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, SAPMO-BA J IV 955. Contributed by Stefan Meining and translated by Bernd Schaefer. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/112924
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[SED Central Committee]

[Department of International Relations]

Berlin, 15 December 1988

N o t e

of a Meeting between the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED and Chairman of the State Council of there GDR, Comrade Erich Honecker, and the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Yasser Arafat[1], on 15 December 1988 in the Building of the State Council of the GDR [in Berlin]

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At the beginning, Yasser Arafat expressed in moving words his thanks for the impressive reception in Berlin. The reception by the Head of State of the GDR, as well as the welcome by an honor guard of the NVA[2] around midnight, have been indelible events for him. He is seeing this as a homage to Palestine. He does not want to hide that in this moment, when he had stepped on GDR soil, he had tears in his eyes. He is happy that the GDR, which even in difficult times had always been a reliable friend for the Palestinian people, could join in empathy with a historic moment in the struggle of the Palestinian people. The valuable support the PLO is receiving by the GDR for so many years has had successful impacts.

The PLO leadership is especially valuing the personal great contribution by Comrade Erich Honecker to the restoration of unity of the Palestinian movement and the support the PLO has received in its struggle for global recognition. Everything the PLO has achieved, it achieved with the GDR and thanks to its influence in the world.

In the name of the PLO Executive Committee he thanked for the instant international recognition of the state of Palestine by the GDR. The itinerary Strasbourg - Berlin - Geneva - Berlin, which has resulted again in a meeting with Comrade Erich Honecker, is an eloquent testimony to the especially close friendship between the PLO and the GDR.

Comrade Erich Honecker, who again cordially welcomed Comrade Arafat in the name of the Central Committee of the SED, the State Council, and the Council of Ministers of the GDR, emphasized that this kind of reception was a matter of course after the proclamation of the Palestinian state and the invitation to Arafat by the Chairman of the State Council of the GDR.

The meanwhile third meeting during this year is simultaneously testimony to the close relationship between the GDR and the PLO.

The great attention the mass media of the GDR devoted to the proclamation of a Palestinian state is demonstrating how this historical moment is felt in the GDR with the same joy as by the Palestinian people.

With the decision to deny Yasser Arafat an entry visa, the United States have done themselves no favor.

Yasser Arafat informed extensively about current developments regarding the Palestine question:

The 19th Extraordinary Session of the Palestinian National Committee in Algiers has decided to launch a peace offensive based on realistic and positive positions. The PLO has taken into consideration here that new developments have occurred in the world. Those are characterized by a balance of interests and a constructive search for the resolution of complicated issues. This policy is having impacts on all regions of the world, as one can see with the examples of Kampuchea, Afghanistan, Namibia, the relation between Iraq and Iran, Central America, and of the Western Sahara. All these problems have come closer to a solution.

The Palestine question is the only example where such a development has not been launched yet. The reason for this are the positions of the United States and Israel. This is why the PLO has decided to intensify the efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. With his appearance before the U.N. General Assembly in New York, one had intended to place our own initiatives on the table of the United Nations and at the same time demonstrate an offensive approach. The U.S. decision to deny the entry visa took the PLO by surprise.

The fact that so far 86 countries have recognized the State of Palestine, and 135 states have made positive statements pertaining to the decisions made in Algiers, is a reflection of the isolated position of the United States.

The proclamation of this state is an expression of the determination of the Palestinian people to implement its right of self-determination. The decision by the Palestinian National Council in Algiers is geared towards introducing practical steps to open the doors for a peace settlement in the Middle East.

Referring to his talks in Stockholm, Yasser Arafat informed he had followed an official invitation by the Prime Minister[3] and Foreign Minister[4] of Sweden. This decision by the Swedish Government he had noted with surprise, because his participation in the [1986] memorial service to honor Olof Palme[5] had been still denied.

Before his arrival in Stockholm, there already had been talks between a PLO delegation and Jewish representatives from the United States who are members of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. Both sides had reached an agreement in these talks, which was however not made public.

From contacts with Swedish representatives, the PLO has gained the insight that it had been the intention of the United States to reach an agreement on a statement coordinated with Arafat and issued in the name of the Executive Committee. Via the Swedish Foreign Minister, U.S. Secretary of State Shultz[6] had forwarded to him [Arafat] the following 4-Point-Proposal:

1. The PLO is accepting the initiation of direct peace negotiations with Israel on the basis of U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

2. The PLO is willing to recognize Israel’s right of existence and to live with the State of Israel and all neighbors in the region in peace and within secured borders. The PLO is publicly declaring its willingness to establish a democratic Palestinian state comprised of the territories of “West Bank and Gaza Strip”.

3. The PLO does condemn terrorism in any form.

4. During the process of negotiations, the PLO is suspending the uprising in the Occupied Territories.

In case that Arafat is expressing his agreement with this proposal in a press conference, the United States are declaring their willingness to resume a dialogue with the PLO.

The PLO submitted to the United States the following modifications:

- The demand to end the uprising in the Occupied Territories (Intifada) is not acceptable.

- The Palestinian state does not consist of the territories West Bank and Gaza Strip, but it will be established “on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967” according to the decisions by Arab Summit Conferences.

- The PLO is willing to hold talks with Israel within the framework of a Middle East conference.

- There will be no statement in the name of the PLO Executive Committee, but a declaration by the “Executive Committee which is performing the duties of a Provisional Palestinian Government”.

On the 6th of December, Secretary of State Shultz let us know that he agrees to the proposed changes under the condition that Arafat is announcing the agreement negotiated with the United States at a press conference. However, this step has to be undertaken while M. Gorbachev is visiting[7] the United States.

From that approach one could figure the intention by the Reagan Administration to demonstrate to the USSR that the United States had already established contacts with the PLO without Soviet involvement.

Yasser Arafat informed that he sent the American proposals to Comrade M. Gorbachev and asked for his opinion. At the press conference in Stockholm, the Western media provided the false version that the internally achieved agreement between a PLO delegation and Jewish personalities from the U.S. would be the joint statement between Arafat and Shultz. This mixup had initially led to positive reactions in the United States but it got quickly corrected. The Swedish side was annoyed about this development. The PLO argued that a democratic state like Sweden should understand that the PLO Chairman cannot make a statement on such important questions without a consultation within the Executive Committee. Overall, though, Foreign Minister Andersson is having a position in favor of the PLO.

After talks by Executive Committee member Abu Mazen[8] in Moscow, the USSR reacted positively to the ideas of the PLO. Then we succeeded to adopt a majority decision in the Executive Committee that Arafat will explain the proposals explored with the United States before a body of the United Nations. This task he fulfilled with his speech in Geneva. The main points were the recognition of Resolution 181 of the General Assembly and Resolutions 242 and 338 of the Security Council of the United Nations, as well as the condemnation of any kind of terrorism.

The U.S. reaction to this speech was surprisingly negative, in part even with derogatory comments about his person. The head of states from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, and Saudi-Arabia attempted everything to exert moderating influence on the PLO not to launch into sharp polemics with the United States. For that reason, he did not make a statement regarding this development at the press conference in Geneva on 14 December. When he had arrived in Berlin, he received news that the U.S. have asked their ambassador in Tunisia to talk with Arafat. This fact is an important decision in favor of the PLO.

Comrade Erich Honecker cordially thanked for this information by Yasser Arafat. He stressed that a couple of positive changes in international relations had also created for the Middle East more favorable conditions towards the resolution of the conflict. After the important decisions by the Palestinian National Council in Algiers, and the widely noted appearance by Yasser Arafat in Geneva, our exchange of opinions today is of special interest.

Geneva was a great success for the PLO. The high respect shown to the Chairman of the Executive Committee on an international level does emphasize that the PLO is on the correct path.

The duplicitous role of the United States in the Middle East has become apparent again. The refusal to grant an entry visa to the highest representative of the PLO has made it clear that the United States and Israel are standing alone. It is evident that the United States wanted to use the visit by Comrade M. Gorbachev for a surprise in Middle East policy. However, his early departure[9] has deprived the United States of the opportunity to act as an initiator in the Middle East.

Comrade Erich Honecker emphasized that the recognition of the Palestinian state by many countries in the world does represent a new stage of developments. The GDR is giving high appreciation to the appearance of Yasser Arafat before the the U.N. General Assembly. The decisions by the Palestinian National Council were characterized by reason and realism and have launched a new phase in the just struggle of the Palestinian people. This way the PLO has undertaken targeted steps towards unlocking the situation in the Middle East.

The GDR is welcoming and supporting the peace initiatives submitted by Yasser Arafat in Geneva. This concerns the following elements:

- Demanding a comprehensive solution within the framework of an international conference on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338, while maintaining the principle of equality, guaranteeing the balance of interests, and the implementation of the right of the Palestinian people regarding liberty and national independence.

- Proposal to establish a preparatory committee for the international peace conference.

- Demand to place the occupied Palestinian land under U.N. control.

The GDR is viewing this peace initiative as an important contribution towards the further joint proceeding of all those forces that are seriously making efforts to further its proposals.

As Comrade Erich Honecker stressed, the SED itself has repeatedly experienced validation that a constructive policy of dialogue is the best way for securing the peace. The consequent continuation of its political line will enable the PLO to exploit already visible starting points in the positions of the United States, as well as of other imperialist states, for making progress in the process of a resolution. The continuation of the Intifada is of great importance here.

With the international recognition of the State of Palestine the GDR has clearly asserted its position. Comrade Erich Honecker confirmed that the GDR will also in the future stand steadfastly on the side of the PLO in its just struggle for a comprehensive solution of the Middle East conflict while considering the interests of all states concerned.

The GDR is also willing to use in the future, in close and trusting coordination with the PLO, its chances to make a contribution towards establishing peace in the Middle East and implementing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

Comrade Erich Honecker informed about the contents of the USSR proposal to undertake unilateral reductions of forces and armaments with regard to the conventional area. The GDR is going along with this decision. The USSR, the GDR, and Czechoslovakia are in accordance that a sufficient level of defense will be maintained. This unilateral step is undertaken in order to put the opponents of disarmament further into the defensive. Still, there are influential forces in the United States, among them Defense Secretary Carlucci[10] and Secretary of State Shultz, who are not interested in a reduction of conventional arms in Europe. This principled line will also continue under Bush, who has already declared that the current NATO doctrine with nuclear deterrence as the core will continue.

Bonn’s policy on this issue is double-headed. During his visit to the FRG[11] the leading politicians had voiced their agreement. Now we are watching a change in their positions. The United States are standing behind this change of mind. The talks with Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Whitehead[12] have confirmed this assessment.

Comrade Erich Honecker stated that the implementation of disarmament measures, as proposed in the peace program of the states of the Warsaw Treaty, is remaining the basic concept of the GDR. Now it is important not to allow a pause in the process of disarmament. The GDR will also react in the future calmly, balanced, and offensively to attempts to slow down the in process begun. The states of the socialist community are aiming at the continuation of the CSCE negotiation process in Vienna. The issuing of a respective mandate [to resume the CSCE process] will make a contribution to the extent that the United States, which is closely allied with Israel, will have to take the changing conditions into consideration. Positive effects will emanate from this process also for the Middle East.

Aware of new developments having become evident in the context of building a European house, the United States are increasing pressure on their allies. They are afraid that Western Europe will somewhat move away from the United States. The concerns of the U.S. are even greater, because the hopes they had already harbored with the signing of the [1975] Final Act in Helsinki, have not become reality at all. The developments have shown the exact opposite.

Referring to the unilateral Soviet disarmament proposals, [Comrade Erich Honecker] referenced the progressing rapprochement between the USSR and China. The planned summit in 1989 will be of special importance in this regard. Overall, there is a situation evolving in the Asian region that would have been hardly imaginable just a while ago.

Regarding the developments in the GDR, Comrade Erich Honecker emphasized that the 7th Session of the SED Central Committee and the recent meeting of the People’s Chamber have reaffirmed the continuation of the proven course of unity between economic and social policy. The threshold into 1989 will be crossed with optimism. The economy is developing stable and dynamically. The GDR is and remains a reliable cornerstone of socialism in Europe. With its attacks against socialism, imperialism will find the GDR a nut too hard to crack.

Referring the example of the important exhibit of the GDR in Moscow, Comrade Erich Honecker informed about the high level of performance of the economy in the GDR and the agreements made for further expansion of the fraternal alliance with the USSR. He emphasized that the USSR is and remains the basic partner for the implementation of the economic strategy of the GDR.

Comrade Erich Honecker referred to results and further tasks concerning the accelerated development of microelectronics.

In conclusion, he emphasized that a process of deep-seated  transformation is going one in the GDR.

Yasser Arafat responded to the statements by Comrade Erich Honecker on the domestic development of the GDR. He is remembering fondly his visit here for the occasion of the IX SED Party Congress in 1976. Since this time, he has followed the unprecedented development in the GDR with pride. Although the State of Palestine is not a real state yet, the PLO is putting already now major emphasis on the qualification of its cadres, especially the youth. It has been decided to establish a new university in Gaza which is supposed to be mainly concerned with computer education.

In the stage of developments ahead, the PLO will need the support of its friends more than ever. He has always said that aid will become most urgent when the Palestinian state will have to be built up.

Comrade Erich Honecker assured that the GDR will provide support in this regard as well.

The meeting, which occurred in a very cordial and comradely atmosphere, was further joined by:

On the side of the PLO Suleiman Najab, member of the Executive Committee of the PLO; Dr. Suleiman Shurafa, Advisor to the Chairman of the Executive Committee for Arab Affairs; Akram Haniyah, Advisor to the Chairman of the Executive Committee for Affairs of the Occupied Territories; and Dr. Issam Kamal Salem, Ambassador of the PLO in the GDR.

On the side of the GDR Hermann Axen[13], Member of the Politburo and Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED; Oskar Fischer[14], Minister for Foreign Affairs of the GDR; Frank-Joachim Herrmann[15], State Secretary, Head of the Chancellery of the Chairman of the State Council of the GDR; Peter Rabenhorst[16], Deputy Head of the Department of International Relations of the Central Committee of the SED; Reiner Neumann[17], Head of the Department Middle and Near East in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs; Peter Bathke, Sector Head in the Department of International Relations of the Central Committee of the SED.

[signed R. Neumann]  

R. Neumann

[1] 1929-2004.

[2] “Nationale Volksarmee”: National People’s Army.

[3] Ingvar Carlsson (born 1934). Prime Minister of Sweden from 1986-1991 and 1994-1996.

[4] Sten Andersson (1923-2006). Foreign Minister of Sweden 1985-1991.

[5] 1927-1986. Prime Minister of Sweden 1969-1976 and 1982-1986.

[6] George Shultz (born 1920). U.S. Secretary of State from 1982 to 1989.

[7] Gorbachev visited New York on 11 and 12 November 1988 where he met President Reagan and President-elect George Bush.

[8] Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen (born 1935), President of the Palestinian National Authority since 2005.

[9] Gorbachev left early because of an earthquake in the Soviet Republic of Armenia.

[10] Frank Carlucci (1930-2018), U.S. Secretary of Defense 1987-1989.

[11] Honecker visited the Federal Republic of West Germany in September 1987.

[12] John C. Whitehead (1922-2015), U.S. Deputy Secretary of State 1985-1989. He had been in the GDR for talks in October 1988.

[13] 1916-1992. Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the SED from 1970 to 1988, Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED for International Relations.

[14] 1923-2020. Minister for Foreign Affairs of the GDR from 1975 to 1990.

[15] 1931-2005.

[16] Born 1940.

[17] Born 1939.

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