Knesset Postpones Vote on Bill Banning Meetings Between Israelis and PLO Officials

There were rowdy scenes in the Knesset yesterday, the last day of the current term, when the house debated a bill banning meetings between Israelis and PLO officials. Mohammed Meiari, one of the two members of the Progressive List for Peace, was forcibly rejected from the chamber upon the orders of Speaker Shlomo Hillel after repeatedly and vociferously shouting that the measure would prevent progress towards peace and negotiations.

But a more serious political row over the controversial bill was averted — following the forceful personal intervention Tuesday evening of Prime Minister Shimon Peres. He stepped in during angry deliberations of the coalition executive — and elicited a procedural agreement between Labor and Likud whereby the bill would be debated yesterday — but would not be brought to a vote until the next session of the Knesset.

Labor had earlier threatened to vote en bloc against the bill — even though it is a government bill — and thus, in combination with the leftwing parties, to foil its passage. Labor was incensed that Justice Minister Moshe Nissim (Likud-Liberal) had rejected a personal request from Peres to defer presenting the bill pending further intra-coalition discussions.

The bill provides up to three years jail for “an Israeli citizen or resident who knowingly, and without authorization, has contact in Israel or abroad, with a person who fills a function in the executive, council, or other similar body in a terrorist organization, or who serves as on official representative of a terrorist organization.”

Labor’s reservations over the bill came late, almost too late. Peres and the Labor ministers had apparently not noticed the various preliminary legislative stages of the measure — though these had been conducted by Nissim and his staff in the normal way — and had been surprised to find themselves suddenly confronted with a government-proposed measure which many Laborites are strongly uncomfortable with. Hence Peres’ request to Nissim that the enactment be deferred.

But Nissim, apparently sensing Labor embarrassment, insisted on going ahead. Peres, however, had the last word and the vote was postponed.

At the debate yesterday, Nissim argued that Israel could hardly urge the United States not to meet with the PLO if it itself condoned such meetings. He said the bill would not ban all meetings — just meetings with PLO leaders and officials. Of course it would not prevent meetings which the government of the day itself approved or initiated.

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