On Page A23 in some editions yesterday, the final line of the story relating the details of the hijacking of the Achille Lauro was dropped. The final quote should have read, "I tell you, as far as I'm concerned there are crazies walking around and normal people can't cope with them."
Exploiting worldwide abhorrence to the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres will make a concerted effort to exclude the Palestine Liberation Organization from the Middle East peace process when he makes his official visit to Washington this week, senior Israeli officials said today.
Aware of what aides to Peres tacitly acknowledged is a public relations bonanza from the hijacking episode, the prime minister will try to persuade President Reagan that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has "played himself completely out of the game of the peace process," a senior Israeli official said. Another official called this the "main purpose" of Peres' talks with Reagan.
"The PLO has proven its true role. This the ship hijacking will be a turning point in the peace process in order to embark on direct negotiations between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation without PLO participation," the official predicted.
Arafat has denied PLO complicity in the hijacking.
Israeli officials also said that they expect the hijacking to have a profound impact on Jordan's King Hussein's perception of the PLO as a partner in the peace initiative.
Peres is scheduled to leave here Tuesday on a 12-day tour of Europe and the United States, during which he is expected to address the U.N. General Assembly. However, following an Israeli Cabinet meeting today, ministerial sources said it was highly unlikely that Peres would address the U.N. body if Arafat is invited to speak at the session marking the 40th anniversary of the organization. They indicated that the prime minister may wait for a decision by Reagan, who also is said to be considering boycotting the session if Arafat appears.
A Cabinet source said, "You can't differentiate between good terrorists and bad terrorists. It's all Arafat."
In the meantime, Israeli officials have not attempted to disguise their pleasure over reports that the Achille Lauro hijackers are members of the pro-Arafat wing of the Palestine Liberation Front, headed by Mohammed Abbas, whom the U.S. government is seeking to arrest for alleged complicity in the incident.
On Wednesday, after it became known that an American Jew, Leon Klinghoffer of New York, had been slain and thrown overboard, Peres said on Israeli television, "We will unhesitatingly wage both the operational and public opinion wars against terrorism."
The public opinion war was launched immediately, with briefings of foreign correspondents by the director general of the Foreign Ministry, David Kimche, Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak, chief of military intelligence, and other senior government officials.
The briefings were accompanied by a flurry of official statements charging Arafat with personal responsibility and involvement in ordering and planning the boarding of the Achille Lauro with the idea of staging a terror attack after disembarking at the Israeli port of Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv.
Senior aides to Peres have said repeatedly that with the collapse of the PLO's military capability during the war in Lebanon, Israel's principal strategy has been to isolate and weaken Arafat and the leaders of the mainstream Fatah branch of the PLO politically so that Israel can seek to open a peace dialogue directly with moderate Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Since the advent of Hussein's joint Jordanian-PLO peace initiative, which held out to Arafat the possibility of tacit recognition of the PLO by the United States, Israeli officials have sought to portray the PLO chairman as personally involved in nearly every attack by Palestinians against Israelis.
Recently, official Israeli pronouncements have focused on a PLO unit called Force 17, which Israeli spokesmen characterize as an elite bodyguard for top PLO leaders that is answerable to Arafat and has been assigned special "showpiece" terror operations. According to Israeli officials, Force 17 -- and, by extension, Arafat personally -- was responsible for such widely divergent operations as the Oct. 2 killings of two Israeli hikers in the occupied West Bank, and the Sept. 25 slayings of three Israelis on a yacht in Cyprus.
When the Achille Lauro hijackers identified themselves as members of the Palestine Liberation Front, without saying which wing of the group, Israeli officials immediately refined the identification by saying they belonged to the pro-Arafat faction led by Abbas.
Later, Kimche told foreign correspondents that Israeli intelligence agencies had "absolute, complete and irrefutable proof that Arafat knew about this operation before it was to begin," although the PLO chairman denied any involvement in the hijacking. Gen. Barak also told reporters that Israel had "irrefutable proof of Arafat's involvement" in the ship hijacking and other recent terror attacks.
Both Barak and Kimche accused the PLO chairman of "playing a double game," ordering terror operations to gain favor with radical factions of the splintered PLO, and denying involvement publicly to enhance his image in the West as a moderate leader seeking peace with Israel.
However, the Israeli officials still refused to provide specific information to support their claims of Arafat's personal involvement, suggesting that to do so would compromise intelligence sources.