WASHINGTON (Feb. 10)
Mustafa Dudein, chairman of the Council of Village Leagues on the West Bank, believes it is time for Palestinians to take their future in “our own hands” and begin direct negotiations with Israel.
“We recognize the Israeli state and we ask in return Israel recognize our legitimate rights,” Dudein said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in the office of Rep. James Scheuer (D. N. Y.).
Scheuer, who met Dudein for the first time during a trip to Israel last summer, said he was impressed by his “moderate” views and invited him to come to Washington where he could meet with members of Congress. Dudein did meet with Congressmen and with Jewish and non-Jewish community leaders here. He is scheduled to meet with community leaders in New York next week.
Dudein had earlier indicated that he might cut short his visit to the U.S. following a report yesterday that a Palestinian terrorist “hit team” might try to assassinate him. He decided to stay on after U.S. security officials said that the situation was “under control.”
IMPORTANCE OF VISIT TO WASHINGTON
The visit to Washington was important, according to Scheuer, because the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem has refused to meet with Dudein or any other members of the Village Leagues while Consulate officials deal with “every pro-PLO supporter” on the West Bank. Scheuer said this is not only “robbing him (Dudein) of credibility” but is “totally counter-productive, harmful and silly.”
The State Department, was also refusing to see Dudein while he was in Washington today because, Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg said, it considers the Village Leagues harmful to the peace process. However, Scheuer said he would continue to try to arrange a meeting with the Department before Dudein returns to Israel.
SUPPORTS REAGAN PLAN, CAMP DAVID ACCORDS
Far from toeing the Israeli line, Dudein is a supporter of the Reagan Administration’s position on the Middle East, Scheuer said. This was borne out by his comments during the interview. Dudein said he recognizes United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 and the Camp David accords. He supports Reagan’s peace initiative and believes only the U.S. can help bring a just solution to the Mideast conflict.
Dudein, a former Cabinet officer and Ambassador in Jordan, said that he believes that between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River live two people on the same land. He personally would like to see a confederation of Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan which would “maintain security and give stability.”
But he believes King Hussein is under pressure from Saudi Arabia to reach an arrangement with PLO chief Yasir Arafat. He believes that the two will not cooperate. Dudein said he would be behind Hussein in any negotiations for the West Bank, but the Palestinian delegates must be elected by the residents of Judaea and Samaria “and not be appointed from outside.”
Dudein founded the first Village League in 1978 and now says the various Leagues total a membership of 72,000. It is a rural-based organization but Dudein notes that 70 percent of the people in the West Bank live in the villages, not in the major towns. However, he said, some of the members do come from towns.
U.S. COOL TO THE VILLAGE LEAGUES
The State Department remains cool to Dudein and the Village Leagues. In its annual report on human rights throughout the world, made public Tuesday, the Department called the Village Leagues a “rural-based quasi-political organization” through which, the Department charges, Israel wants to “transfer patronage and authority from elected and established Palestinian nationalist leaders whom Israel objects to as being supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization.”
But Dudein maintains it is he and the other Village Leagues leaders who are the elected leaders of the West Bank. He said the mayors were elected to administer municipal services and not to deal in politics. Leagues members, however, he said were elected at large meetings to represent the people. He said he is ready for any election to decide who represents the people in particular areas and “is ready for the results.”
The Village Leagues have also provided services, building roads, schools, water supplies and electricity, Dudein said. But he noted they lack money because they get no support from the Arab countries and the PLO actively opposes them. One of the reasons for this trip to the U.S. was to raise funds.
But Dudein stresses, the Village Leagues officials were also elected to pursue a political course leading to direct negotiations with Israel without any preconditions. In that context, he sees the Jewish settlements on the West Bank as “part of the problem, but not all of it.” But because of the settlements, he urges his fellow Arabs to “hurry and start the negotiations. If we delay a few years all of the area will be covered with settlements and it will be too late.”