LONDON (Oct. 9)
British police are going on full security alert in advance of this month’s forthcoming visit to Britain by two members of the Palestine Liberation Organization as part of a Jordanian delegation which will meet Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe.
This follows last week’s arrest here of two Jordanian nationals by anti-terrorist squad officers. The pair were charged with conspiracy to cause explosions in London and are believed to belong to the hard-line Palestinian faction led by Abu Nidal which bitterly opposes any Palestinian connection with a Jordanian attempt to break the Arab-Israeli diplomatic deadlock.
A report here said Abu Nidal faction members operating from Syria and Libya, are expected to try to enter Britain in twos and threes over the next 10 days from European countries using false passports.
Although the latest wave of Arab-Israeli violence appears to have been triggered by British Premier Margaret Thatcher’s invitation to the Jordanian PLO team, Thatcher herself is far from apologetic about her move. In a typically blunt defense of her initiative, she has told Jewish and Israeli journalists here that her initiative had the private support of U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and that it will help peace rather than hinder it.
THATCHER TRIES TO CALM TEMPERS
In her statement, aimed at calming tempers among Britain’s Jewish community, Thatcher dismissed claims that her PLO invitees — Mohammed Milhem, former Mayor of Halhoul, and Bishop Elias Khoury — had failed to denounce terrorism, describing them instead as “men of peace.”
She also denied that, as a stern critic of the Irish Republican Army, she was being hypocritical in trying to engage the PLO in Middle East peace talks. Rejecting any parallels between the PLO and the IRA, she said that while the majority of people in Northern Ireland had voted in favor of remaining part of the United Kingdom, there had been no referendum in the West Bank on whether its people wished to stay in Israel.
The British invitation to the Jordanian-PLO delegation is regarded here as the center piece of a major attempt to reassert British influence on the Middle East. It has coincided with a spate of big arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and the opening of negotiations on a one hundred million Pounds Sterling deal with Egypt.
This is at a time when Britain remains the only major member of the European Economic Community to maintain the arms embargo on Israel, launched at the time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
Despite the anxiety this is causing inside the Jewish community, the public in general seems far less interested in the Middle East than it has for many years and Israel still suffers from the unpopularity aroused during its siege of Beirut three years ago.
Thus, the strong revulsion aroused last week by the murder of three Israelis at Larnaca has been over taken by the obliteration of Yasir Arafat’s Tunis headquarters by the Israeli Air Force.
Nevertheless, Thatcher may have some difficulty in explaining her new PLO policy to this week’s national conference of her Conservative Party. It is only a year since she herself was nearly killed by the massive bomb planted by the IRA in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, during the 1984 Conservative Party conference. At this year’s conference, seven different Conservative Party constituency organizations have presented motions condemning international terrorism.