WARSAW, Poland -- Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres arrived Monday for talks that could pave the way for restored diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel and improved economic cooperation.
Peres, who was born in Poland, met with Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski and discussed the restoration of diplomatic ties severed in 1967, the Polish news agency PAP said.
A Foreign Ministry source said Peres' visit could pave the way to full restoration of relations with Israel, including the exchange of ambassadors, beginning in 1990.
Peres was also to meet President Wojciech Jaruzelski, Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and Communist Party leader Mieczyslaw Rakowski during his three-day visit, which will also take him to the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
The talks will also aim at boosting trade relations, PAP said. The value of trade between the two nations grew from $22.3 million in 1988 to $40 million this year.
'I was invited both by the government and by the (Communist) Party,' Peres told Israel Radio a day before his departure for Warsaw. 'As far as I know this is the first official and meaningful invitation that has been received and I hope that it will further advance Israeli-Polish relations.
Poland's communist government severed diplomatic ties with Israel in 1967 to protest the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The other East Bloc countries, except Romania, quickly followed suit.
Hungary recently resumed diplomatic ties with Israel and Poland's new Solidarity-led government has said it wants to do the same.
In an interview with Solidarity newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Peres pointed out that Polish-Jewish relations have had their ups and downs in Poland since Jews immigrated in the 13th century to escape persecution in Western Europe.
In 1968, the Communist Party leadership blamed Jews for economic problems during political infighting that forced about 15,000 Jews to leave Poland.
'We cannot forget that Jews and Poles have lived together for centuries like at home,' said Peres. 'We have had a flourishing Jewish and Hebrew culture on Polish soil -- schools and various organizations.'
The Polish-born Peres emigrated in 1934 to Palestine and changed his name from Perski to Peres.
Before World War II, about 4 million Jews lived in Poland, which had a population of 36 million. Today the number of Jews is estimated at 20,000 in a population of 38 million.
About 2 million Polish Jews died at the hands of the Nazis and hundreds of thousands of others living in eastern territories were incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939.