Kåre Willoch, the former Norwegian prime minister for the Conservative Party who once considered the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a terrorist, laid a wreath on Arafat’s grave this week and accepted a Palestinian passport from current President Mahmoud Abbas.
Willoch, now an elder statesman, changed his mind about the Palestinians and has been an active supporter of their cause for the past several years. At a meeting in Ramallah on Wednesday, Abbas showed his appreciation by giving the passports from the Palestinian Authority to both Willoch and his wife, Anne Marie.
Willoch was an ardent defender of Israel. Now he says that “in the long run, it will damage Israel” if there’s no willingness to strike an agreement that can lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. Willoch said he “fears the development that can come” if the various sides in the conflict don’t use the “possibilities for peace” that currently exist.
Willoch called the passports “nice recognition” but said he doubted he’d ever use his as a travel document.
Before his meeting with Abbas, Willoch and a city councilman from Oslo, Amir J Sheikh, laid down wreaths on the grave of Arafat, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Rabin was later assassinated by another Israeli, while Peres is today Israel’s president.
“Abbas stressed the will for peace without violence,” Willoch said, admitting to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he once tried to block the opening of the Palestinian representative office in Oslo. He said his current views have simply evolved over time.
Willoch was known as one of Norway’s most steadfast Conservatives, and his government’s time in office during the 1980s eased regulations and liberalized markets in a way that opened up and changed Norway forever. He since has become far less conservative on everything from environmental issues to politics both in and outside Norway. He has criticized Israel’s politics and, in the process, gained critics of his own, including former party colleague Jo Benkow, but insists that criticizing Israeli politics is not equivalent to anti-Semitism.
Willoch remains an active public commentator on both international and domestic issues in Norway, at an age of 82.
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