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Behind the Headlines PLO Maneuvers for Geneva Seat

An overwhelming majority of 140 of the 162 delegates in the Palestinian National Council (PNC) approved last week Yassir Arafat’s 10-point political program. This vote equipped Arafat with the necessary backing to start maneuvering for a seat in Geneva. The document seemingly leaves the Palestine Liberation Organization position unchanged with regard to ultimate goals and the old set of slogans. The written clauses hardly signify any departure from previous decisions taken by PNC. But its importance lies primarily in the “unwritten clauses,” in the meaning of what remained unstated.

For example: the first of the ten points rejects the refugee clause of the Security Council Resolution 242 as a basis for negotiations in Geneva or elsewhere. However, there is no outright rejection of a political settlement, as was customary in the past and no explicit rejection of the resolution as a whole. This implies that participation in Geneva by the PLO will be considered if the Palestinians are granted recognition of their “national rights.”

The other key point presented by Arafat was a call for the establishment of a “national independent and fighting Palestinian authority” in the “liberated territories.” This call was coupled with a clear refusal to pay the price, which is peace, recognition and secure borders for Israel. It insists on maintaining in full the, Palestinians’ “right to return to their homeland and exercise self-determination there.” Since Arafat himself openly declared that the Palestinians are not able to liberate alone “even one meter,” the contradiction is quite outstanding. How can “national authority” be established when the Palestinian groups themselves recognize that its establishment is not a feasible military objective for them? Yet they are adamant in refusing to envisage its establishment as part of a broader political settlement with Israel.

NO DEFINITE COURSE

This inner contradiction, among others, should not mislead us into contending that the decisions taken are ambiguous. These contradictions stem from a calculated attempt to gain ambiguity, to make the smallest possible opening towards political settlement. They serve well Arafat’s inclination not to commit his movement to a definite course of action. He suggested from the onset that the ten points be registered as an interim platform only, subject to modifications in the future, as circumstances dictate.

In fact, Arafat and his colleagues were mainly interested in avoiding any conflict with Egypt. President Anwar Sadat was pressing them to declare readiness to go to Geneva and form a Viet Cong style “provisional government.” Arafat would not go that far. Instead, he threw the ball back to Sadat by demanding improvement of Resolution 242’s “Palestinian clause.”

Although the Egyptians were not pleased with the advance achieved in the PNC, they are now bound to resume efforts for a Jordanian-Palestinian arrangement. Before pressing Arafat for more explicit positions the Egyptians have to get Arafat and Jordan’s King Hussein to agree on the status, composition and role of a Palestinian delegation in Geneva. Only after this is secured can Sadat move to win the PLO a wider international recognition.

In the meantime, the PLO leaders can congratulate themselves on sticking to their traditional line of extremism. They have announced plans to escalate terror operations against Israel and they maintain the hope that the peace moves will collapse altogether sooner or later.

Arafat’s deputy, Abu Ayad, explained to the PNC delegates in a very outspoken manner that so long as the negotiations continue, the PLO simply has no choice other than to seek participation. Otherwise the terrorist movement may face serious attempts by the Arab regimes to crush it completely. But, Abu Ayad added, no settlement will be reached in the next two or three years and there are still good chances that nothing will come out of it. So, the PLO is slowly opting for a share in the negotiations, while praying for their breakdown.

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