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Digital Archive International History Declassified

February 14, 1974

MINUTES OF CONVERSATION BETWEEN NICOLAE CEAUșESCU, THE GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE ROMANIAN COMMUNIST PARTY, AND THE DELEGATION OF THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION, LED BY YASSER ARAFAT

This document was made possible with support from the Bilkent University

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    Yasir Arafat and Nicolae Ceaușescu discuss policy for Palestine and the diplomatic relationship between the two entities.
    "Minutes of Conversation between Nicolae Ceaușescu, the General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, and the Delegation of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Yasser Arafat ," February 14, 1974, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, ANIC, C.C. al P.C.R., Sectia Relatii Externe, dosar 20/1974, pp. 94-116. Contributed and translated by Eliza Gheorghe. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/219942
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Minutes of conversation

between Nicolae Ceaușescu, the General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, and the delegation of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Yasser Arafat

- February 14 1974, Beirut -

On behalf of the Romanian [government], comrades Cornel Burtică, Ion Pățan, George Macovescu and Nicolae Doicaru attended the meeting.

On behalf of the Palestinian delegation, Yasser Abd Rabbo, member of the Executive Committee, representative of  Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu Lutf [Farouk Kaddoumi], member of the Executive Committee, Abu Nidal, member of the Executive Committee, Zuheir Mohsen, the head of al-Sai’qa, Hani al Hassan [Abu Tariq], political adviser.  

[Exchange of pleasantries]

Yasser Arafat: Although this palace belongs to Lebanon, we think it is our palace. We hope that next time you visit us in Jerusalem.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: Agreed.

Yasser Arafat: As far as I know, we invited you and you accepted [to come].

Nicolae Ceaușescu: I would be very glad to be the guest of an independent Palestinian state.

Yasser Arafat: We are convinced that with the help of our friends we can get to create this state, [we can get to build] a democratic state.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: Of course, friends can help a lot, but [one] must always start from something. Every [trip] begins with a first step.

Yasser Arafat: Yes.

We hope you are happy with the visit you are making to Lebanon.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: Yes, it is a good visit. Also, the visit to Libya was very good. We signed a series of economic agreements, we even signed a general agreement, a joint Declaration, and we practically agreed on all issues.

Yasser Arafat: We are very glad to hear that.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: I am very content, and I think that my comrades are very content with the outcome of the visit to Libya.

Yasser Arafat: I asked our representative there to meet with you. I was informed he had a meeting with you and he was very happy to have met you.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: What are your current concerns?

Yasser Arafat: We are concerned with many things. We, the Palestinian people, feel that we are experiencing a very important and dangerous phase [in our struggle], especially after the latest war, the October War from last year, also because of those who triggered this war. The outcomes of this war directly affected, whether we like it or not, the future of the Palestinian people. The beginning of the war, the separation of troops to one side, the eruption of clashes somewhere else, [the] Geneva [conference], the unity of the Palestinians, which we can now talk about with confidence – we can say that the large majority of the Palestinian population sees the Palestine Liberation Organization as the only organization which represents this population. We are even supported by the organization in Jerusalem.

I could say, however, that it is not very clear what is happening now. We cannot say anything about international agreements, about the results of the UN resolutions, [we wonder] whether there are some secret aspects [we don’t know about]. [We wonder] whether the resolution or the solution to these issues will be [achieved] to the detriment of the Palestinian people’s interests.

As we very well know, and as you know, UN Security Council Resolution 242 did not refer to the resolution of the Palestinian population problem, but to the issue of Palestinian refugees. Of course, it is clear that the problem of some Palestinian refugees is totally different from the problem of the Palestinian people. This is where we [need] our friends. We ask these friends, if they want, to stand by us now. After 10 years of armed struggle, we believe we are capable of deciding the fate of our own people on its own territory. I believe this is a legitimate right, which is written down in all international documents.

Undoubtedly, there are certain games, [and] maneuvers on the international arena, this is why we look to our friends, to you, to be on our side in this moment [of difficulty]. First, we look to you, comrade Ceaușescu, to the Romanian people, and the Romanian Communist Party.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: Of course, these issues are rather complicated. To a certain extent, the October War complicated things even further. But it had its positive side, as it put the definitive resolution of the Middle East conflict on the agenda. We – I am referring to Romania – believe that a political solution is possible, and actually, given today’s international circumstances, only a political solution will ensure peace in the Middle East, because in any situation created by armed fighting in the Middle East, [one] can end up with American troops present in this region, and clearly, despite all the consequences, this would lead to the presence of Soviet Union troops also, and maybe of other troops as well, which would ultimately result in a very dangerous conflict. Clearly, nobody wants a confrontation between the US and the USSR. But if this conflict was to occur, clearly Middle Eastern countries would greatly suffer. But, of course, this would pose a danger to the whole world.

Yasser Arafat: That is true.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: If there were US troops in the Middle East, clearly that would [create] a lot of tension and complicate things, and pose many hurdles, including for the Palestinian people, even if there was no military clash with the USSR.

As you know, in October [1973], we were one step away from the intervention of US troops. For this reason, Romania saluted the cessation of hostilities, and we believe the disengagement [agreement signed] by Egypt and Israel was a positive thing. Of course, as I said back then, we pointed out that Israel was the one to withdraw from the Arab territories, namely from Egypt's territories, and to withdraw from the Suez Canal as much as possible. And actually, this is exactly what happened, Israel withdrew 15-20 km away from the [Suez] Canal, which can only be a good thing. We believe that this is just the beginning of the solution [based on] total withdrawal. We believe that the other countries, so Syria too, should [sign] a disengagement [agreement], meaning that Israel should withdraw from the Syrian territories and [have] a free zone. You see, here however, there is a special situation, because the disengagement zone is created not through the withdrawal of both parties, but through Israel’s withdrawal, because it is [occupying] Arab territories. And undoubtedly, it is a good thing, to be followed by the Geneva negotiations [aimed at] reaching a comprehensive solution.

Of course, we believe that the Geneva [Conference] must be attended by other countries in addition to those directly interested, in addition to the Soviet Union and the United States. It is in the interest of Arab countries to have other countries participate, which would give them [even] more support in this struggle that will take place in Geneva. In fact, [this] struggle has various forms – military, as well as political and diplomatic – and [you] must use those types of struggle which correspond to a certain phase.

To our mind, the political and diplomatic struggle has the most important role now. It is not at all easy, actually, at times it is harder than military struggle. And [you] need a great deal of support in this political struggle, from all countries that want a just and durable peace. As we said on other occasions, I actually said it tonight in my toast, the issue of the Palestinian people must be included in the resolution of the Middle East [conflict]. Of course, you, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, are the ones to make the [final] decision in this respect, but to our mind, [you] must use the current circumstances to achieve the maximum [you can] in the resolution [of this] problem.

A while ago, I learned about your views regarding a democratic Palestinian-Israeli-Christian state. To be honest, as a matter of principle and from a theoretical point of view, you are right, but from the point of view of the conditions for the creation of [this state], I believe, [the conditions] are not favorable now. I want to tell you openly how we see things, because we could tell you we agree with you, but as friends, as revolutionaries, we want to tell you how we see things. To my mind, there are favorable conditions for successes that would lead to resolving the Palestinian problem. If you lose this moment when [Israel] signs peace accords with Egypt, Syria and others, then there is a danger that the Palestinian problem will remain unsolved for a long time to come. [Other] issues keep emerging [on the international arena], but now the eyes of many peoples, of many political figures are focused on the situation in the Middle East, but this situation could change. For this reason, [you] must use these circumstances to firmly put the resolution of the plight of the Palestinian people on the agenda.

First, there is the issue of taking part in the Geneva Conference. To our mind, your organization must participate in this conference. The very fact that you are taking part in this conference means a wide international recognition, but this, in my opinion, is not enough. I think [you should] form a government, proclaim a state of the Palestinian people. Of course, this requires a firm determination, the assumption of responsibility, but on matters of vital interest for the Palestinian people, its leaders must assume this responsibility. The creation of an independent Palestinian state, with its own government, will radically change the situation in the Middle East. Of course, this [state] will be [located] on a certain territory, but it will give other [possibilities] to bring together the strength of the entire Palestinian people and to organize a new life. Afterwards, [you] can think about joining a federation, or a confederation with other Arab states, but this is, of course, a different issue. The existence of a Palestinian state will create a new basis for tackling the [issue] of a democratic Palestinian, Israeli and Christian state, in the long run. Of course, this is an issue to be solved in the future. What is attainable now, I think, is the formation of a state, of a government of the Palestinian people, a government which will enjoy wide international recognition. In any case, I tell you that we will immediately recognize this government and I think many other countries will do the same thing.

Yasser Arafat: Comrade President, if I understood you correctly, did you just say that taking part in the Geneva conference is not everything?

Nicolae Ceaușescu: The participation of the Palestine Liberation organization in the Geneva [Conference] is not much. It is necessary to form a state.

Yasser Arafat: A state or a government?

Nicolae Ceaușescu: A government of a Palestinian state.

Yasser Arafat: On which territory? Within which borders?

Nicolae Ceaușescu: You can have the West Bank, Gaza as a base.

Yasser Arafat: I would like to clarify this issue for you. Of course, we are aware of the concern and the fear that people have with respect to the insertion of military forces in the Middle East. We do not want that our land becomes a battlefield for the great powers, and we do not want to be the trigger a world warm which destroys the entire human kind, but [what we want], to our mind, is not enough. To achieve a durable peace, it is necessary to find a just solution for the Palestinian people. The responsibility of the world is to find this just solution for the Palestinian people, a solution which springs from the principles of the United Nations Organization, which gives peoples the right to self-determination, to decide their fate on their own. Our people has been suffering in this darkness since 1948. Its territory was forcefully taken away and a great share of this people was thrown out. Throughout this period, the UN adopted a series of decisions to solve this problem. The same decision which stipulated the creation of an Israeli state body also decreed the formation of a Palestinian state. In any case, Israel took more than the UN resolution provided it with, it did not apply the resolution referring to Palestinian refugees, namely to their homes, to their return here.

When I asked you within which frontiers and which borders, I wanted to see if [you were] referring to those frontiers established by the UN. Nobody believes that the solution offered by the UN is a just solution, but, in its place, [we will not] accept anything less than what [the UN] decided [to give us].

How could we give up the rights that the UN gave us in exchange for nothing? If for the Palestinians, the partition solution was unjust, the world, on the other hand, saw it as a just [solution]. If the world wants to solve this problem, then it must act firmly to achieve this solution.

You [advised us] to go to Geneva but there are no clear problems [to be discussed] in Geneva, first, [there is no clear] thinking and interpretation of the Palestinian problem. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 talks about a humanitarian problem, that of Palestinian refugees, but not about the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to have a political organization, according to the UN decision. If the international public opinion requested the application of these [UN] decisions, then we would have a reason to go to Geneva. I do not want you to think that I am trying to convince you of the pointlessness of taking part in the Geneva [Conference] [while] you see it as necessary, but I want to make you see what is just. I believe that if [they] manage to apply the UN resolutions, this would mean that we obtained that which can give us security and we believe that it is precisely this which can ensure peace and security in the region. Under different conditions, each member of our community will live with the feeling that he lives in darkness and oppression.

I hope I made myself clear for all [our] friends, and especially for you. Thank you very much.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: Of course, [you are] right about the matter of the 1947 and 1948 resolution. It is pointless to talk about whether they were just or not. We must start from reality. Of course, if in 1948 the Palestinian state would have been created right then, the situation in the Middle East would have been different, but it is pointless to talk about this. I think that the UN Security Council resolution is very just, but [you] should not wait for others to solve the plight of the Palestinian people. You see, 115 years ago, when we created the Romanian state, there were many [states] against it, and at the beginning, [this state] did not have its entire territory, but just a part, but we proclaimed the state, [they] had to recognize it, it asserted [its presence], and only in 1877, meaning in 18-20 years we obtained our independence from the Turks and we adjoined the other territories - in 1918. If we had not formed the state in 1859 of course we would have lost the most important moment. There were many people who wanted to take a strip and keep some of the Romanian territories to themselves.

I am giving you this example because I want you to understand that those who must solve the problem are you, the Palestinian people. [Other people] can help you, but only you can solve the issue. It is true that many states do not hold views which are conducive to solving this issue, as they regard the plight of the Palestinian people as a humanitarian problem, a refugee problem. It is up to you to change this situation. I am telling you what I think as a revolutionary, not as a head of state, as a communist who believes that the Palestinian people must get to a point where it decides its independent development on its own. The creation of a government and of a state, even on a narrower territory, will create the conditions for its assertion and for [finding] a solution to the remaining problems. Things will not go well if you remain in today’s situation, divided between different states.

Please understand. We have no vested interests in the Middle East, we do not aspire to a dominant position in the region, but we begin from our view about having relations with all countries, all nations, in an age when there are many transformations [in the direction] of asserting the right [to existence] of national independent states. This process is a struggle, it is not static.

Yasser Arafat: That is true.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: The very achievement of national unity is a long-term process, a struggle, and the achievement of an organized [administration] will expedite the achievement of this unity because it would also create the economic and cultural, and of course territorial, conditions which can help create this unity. Of course, you are the ones to decide, but as friends, we [would] like to tell you how we see things. If we were in your situation, this is what we would do.

Yasser Arafat: This is precisely why we came to you, because we are certain of the honest friendship you showed us, and because our aims as well as your aims are the same. [Your] views, which are very genuine, and the fact that you are on our side are very useful to us, and I agree that at this moment, we need to clarify to ourselves which are all the stages we must go through. We are aware of the fact that right now we are [experiencing] a decisive phase. 

Yasser Abd Rabbo: It may be that we are not analyzing our problem too much from a juridical point of view. As revolutionaries, we pay attention to the political fighting. We know that the outcome [of this struggle] will be ultimately decided by the balance of forces, but also, by our activity and by the ways in which we can assert ourselves [as a part] of this balance of forces. In the current state of affairs in the region, there are two essential problems that concern the Palestinian people, the Palestine Liberation Organization. [First] there is the trend to reach bilateral disengagement agreements, between Egypt and Israel, and between Syria and Israel, an aspect which, it seems, will soon become reality in a near future. To be more precise, we say that through these disengagement agreements we are afraid that with the creation of this zone where UN troops will be deployed, we will reach that phase again, when Israel will freeze the situation again. This is where events on the international stage are going, which can lead to a dangerous situation, which, by no means, will bring a resolution to [our] problem. This is the first aspect [that we are worried about].

The second aspect [is] related to the Golan Heights and the Sinai. It is know that they are tied to Egypt and Syria. As far as the other Palestinian territories are concerned, there is a first trend which encourages King Hussein to strike a deal with Israel. We heard some declarations in this respect, when he visited Romania, and even thereafter. We know which are the borders which King Hussein can give up to strike a deal with Israel. These renunciations will be made at the expense of the Palestinian people.

At the time being, we think it is very useful to have an exchange of views with your delegation, which is why we mentioned all these things, so that we have a better understanding of how to fight, how to position ourselves, and how we can obtain the best results at this moment. All the proposals [they made] do not give us any guarantees, not only for us, but also for the Palestinian people. I mentioned these problems because our people is very concerned about them. Of course, we do not ignore King Hussein's ability to influence the [Palestinian] people, but we are afraid of agreements imposed from above. We need help from our friends to find solutions to these issues.

To be even clearer, could we form a government while there are still uncertainties about the Sinai and the Golan Heights, and about the situation we mentioned? [Could we form a government] when there is a danger that we do not even get the minimum rights for the Palestinian people, when there is a risk of decisions being taken from above?

There is, of course, the danger that the situation in the area gets frozen. If we do not have any guarantees that this process is continued in the current and next phase, this would lead to the weakening of the political position of the Palestinian people.

I mentioned these things because they are ultimately the source of our concerns.

Zuheir Mohsen: Comrade President said that Romania has no vested interest, no special goals in the Middle East. We perfectly understand [your position] and we greatly appreciate your position.

In our opinion, from the point of view of foreign policy [and] international affairs interests, not only Romania but also all peoples of the world have an interest in peace in the Middle East, which can spur general peace. There is also the thing you previously mentioned in your speeches, [namely] the danger of the two superpowers striking a deal. This would affect the interests of all peoples. Peace will be lost if the Palestinian people will be deprived of its rights and driven out of its land. For this reason, we put our hopes in our friends, to help us and support the Palestinian people, so that by maintaining peace in the region, [they] ensure the rights of the Palestinian people, on the basis of the UN resolutions and not on the basis of [current] realities.

Abu Lutf: [I only want to add] one point. You talked about the rights of the Palestinian people. There is another fundamental problem. Assuming that the Israeli troops withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza, in accordance with Resolution 242. What would be the solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees? [Let us say that] King Hussein withdraws to Transjordan, and Sadat gives Gaza up. Where is the problem of the refugees when Resolution 242 itself does not specify? That would mean that the Palestinian people did not win anything. We, Palestinians, live both in the West Bank and in Gaza. [Will there] be an issue of who will govern us? We will immediately take to arms and destroy anyone who tries to govern us. In other words, I wanted to [ask] how [you see] the solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. If the problem of partition is a hard one, if the problem of the general status is, also, hard, isn’t it easier that I go back to my homeland, not as a state, but just like that, to return to my homeland? I think [this] would be the beginning in solving this problem.

Yasser Abd Rabbo: I would like to add one more thing. As far as realities [on the ground] are concerned, we agree that those involved in politics must be, above all, realists, but this realism has its limits. It is a reality that Israel is occupying the Sinai and it is occupying both the West Bank and Gaza. Let us regard this as reality and ponder: if Israel refuses to withdraw, does this mean the Egypt and Syria must recognize this as a reality? Israel wants to expand and its wants to have secure borders, but at the expense of other states. Of course, you did not recognize this, but the international community recognizes certain frontiers for the Palestinian state. What more can [they] ask of us – to give up and concede our territory to Israel? Didn’t Israel obtain more territories than stipulated in the partition resolution by forcefully occupying [Arab] territories? In this respect, the [international community] must demand the withdrawal from these territories. Let us say that we will be asked to form a government. If we want to form a government, that would mean we make our frontiers of our state known. If you were in our position, would you accept the frontiers of your state to be narrower than what the UN stipulated?

Nicolae Ceaușescu: Unfortunately, we accepted them!

Yasser Abd Rabbo: Of course, then, there was no UN to announce this occupation, but a foreign power.

Yasser Arafat: We do not want to take [too much] of your time, since we know you are busy tomorrow.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: Clearly, there are many problems, and each of you presented one aspect. There is the real danger mentioned by some of the [Palestinian] comrades that the problem is partially solved, or, especially, the problem is solved by withdrawing from the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and from the West Bank, and [people] think [all] problems are solved. Clearly, there is such a danger and I mentioned this in the beginning.

You know, I think [we cannot talk about] Geneva imposing or insisting for the creation of a Palestinian government. I believe, on the contrary, that many will want that this issue is not brought up. Clearly, there is the problem of the right of refugees to return to their lands, but this does not solve the problem. Undoubtedly, the partition resolution must be seen as base. This is where you should start and act. If you wait for the UN or other states to solve the problem…

Yasser Arafat: I know, they will not do anything [about it]. Who should solve the problem then?

Nicolae Ceaușescu: You. Others can help.

Yasser Abd Rabbo: We are not a member of the UN.  

Nicolae Ceaușescu: You will become a member of the UN. The creation of a government and of a state opens real opportunities for a comprehensive and durable solution. This is our view, of course. We are doing nothing more than expressing our views, you are the ones to decide. I think we would not be fair, as friends, not to tell you what we think.

Yasser Arafat: That is true.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: But, clearly, you are the ones to decide. At a certain point in time, the formation of a government and of a state will bring this issue to the attention of the entire world and will prevent things from freezing [in a given state].

Indeed, [King] Hussein was in Romania. I told him how we see things, including the fact that we believe a Palestinian state should be created. I have to tell you that he said he thought our point of view to be a just one and that if Palestinians decided [to forma state], he would support it.

Abu Lutf: He sent three Palestinians to Geneva who, he said, represented the Palestinian people, [and] he has certain reservations regarding the fact that the Palestine Liberation Organization represents the Palestinian people and that he is afraid [of the PLO].

Nicolae Ceaușescu: He said he [agrees] to the participation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the Geneva [Conference].

Yasser Arafat: As an independent delegation?

Nicolae Ceaușescu:  I did not get into details with him, nor into negotiations.

Abu Lutf: Maybe we were not clear enough, we are not talking to you now to negotiate. You do not have anything to [gain] from us; on the contrary, we want to get some of your opinions.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: [What I meant to say] is that Hussein can also be determined to accept certain things. This is where [one] should start, and Israel can also be determined. Actually, there are [certain] forces inside Israel, but especially abroad, which are beginning to understand and they are beginning to support the idea of a Palestinian state, including the World Jewish Congress. I mean, it must be understood that, clearly, the issue is not where [this state] will be [located], and that it is not clear [yet] that everybody accepts [the creation of this state]. There isn’t much clarity and unanimity among you on this issue.

Yasser Arafat: That is very true.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: So this is a problem which is like this today, and like that tomorrow.

Yasser Arafat: The more friends we have, the more we stand to win.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: Undoubtedly, but first, you must act, form a government and your own state and then you will see how many friends you will have to support you.

Undoubtedly, there are the issues related to reparations, which are included in the UN resolutions, but these [issues] can be addressed and discussed separately. But [one] must start with something. If you start with the reparations, some will say ‘very well, we will give you some money,’ and with that, it’s over. Or they will tell you to go back to Gaza and the West Bank.

Yasser Arafat: If that was our only problem, we would have accepted [a settlement] 25 years ago. We will now ask for reparations over 25 years, and [if we take the] interest [rate into account], I am afraid it will amount to a very large sum.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: You must start with what is essential. But, clearly, you are the ones to decide.

Yasser Arafat: With the help of our friends.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: I told you, friends can help you a lot, but no friend will solve this problem for you. This is what this whole problem is all about.

Yasser Abd Rabbo: Friend is that [person] who supports our struggle and we must play our own part.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: What kind of support?

Yasser Abd Rabbo: Economic, political, military support.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: I advise even those in Africa, including Cabral, when he was still alive, whom I advised to create his own independent state, even if its territories were occupied, because this offers you other opportunities to act and, afterwards, this state was created, and it received international support. This is what [one] must understand. The creation of a state does not mean the end of a process, but the beginning, and it takes the struggle to a higher level, it gives it a better organized form. So [creating a state] is a step, not the end of the struggle.

Yasser Arafat: That is true.

Thank you very much for this meeting and please excuse us for taking so much of your time.

Nicolae Ceaușescu: I am glad to do so.

National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives, Folder D13891, Volume 43

Objective: OLGA [Palestine Liberation Organization]

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