Freij Urges PLO to Recognize IsraelOne of the leaders of the moderate camp in the administered territories, Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem, issued an unprecedented statement over the weekend urging the Palestine Liberation Organization to recognize Israel and thereby “challenge it and the United States for peace.”

Similarly, Freij urged his fellow mayors in the territories to exert their influence for a political dialogue between Israel, the Arab states and the PLO. Most of the West Bank mayors are considered PLO sympathizers and have taken the official PLO line which demands Israeli withdrawal prior to any political negotiations.

But in a series of interviews with Haaretz, Freij repeated his long-held view that the current stalemate is working in Israel’s favor. He noted that as the stalemate continues “we see new Israeli settlements” on the West Bank,”and in 10 years there will be nothing left for the Palestinians to talk about” in terms of having a state on the West Bank.

Freij said he was asking the PLO to pose to Israel a challenge of peace rather than war, to recognize Israel and initiate direct negotiations between the two parties. “It is clear that there is no military solution for the current crisis,” he said, “and it is very unlikely that there will ever be. The only alternative is a political dialogue, which holds the promise of movement.”

Freij said that a peace initiative by the PLO would win over Western public opinion in favor of the Palestinians. If his suggestion were to be endorsed by other Arab mayors, it would have a “tremendous effect on the Arab world in general and on the PLO in particular,” he said. Freij enjoys good relations with the government of Israel as well as with most foreign embassies. He met recently with U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, his Mideast specialist Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South South Asian Affairs Nicholas Veliotes, and Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.) while they were visiting Israel.