Behind the Headlines: PLO Aide’s Call for Direct Talks with Israel Gets a Second Look

Japanese Foreign Minister Sosuke Uno’s one-day visit to Israel on Sunday was remarkable in several respects. But one aspect of the historic visit, reported only briefly by the news media here, is worthy of note and comment, for it may well be a harbinger of a new and different phase in the diplomacy surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At a meeting with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, the Japanese foreign minister discussed the content of a document issued just a few days earlier by a rising star in the Palestine Liberation Organization, Bassam Abu Sharif.

Uno’s interlocutors told reporters after the meeting that the Japanese minister expressed keen interest in the document, which is entitled “Prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli Settlement.”

It calls for direct talks between Israel and the PLO, and envisions a two-state solution with strong international guarantees.

PLO chief Yasir Arafat was quoted Sunday as saying that in the wake of the Abu Sharif document, “the United States ought now to make a gesture toward the PLO.”

This seemed very close to an outright endorsement of the document by Arafat.

When the document was first published last week, the U.S. State Department termed it “constructive,” but questioned whether it was in fact “authoritative,” hinting thereby that Arafat must clearly endorse it if it is to have real weight in American eyes.

Arafat’s radical rivals, meanwhile, have roundly condemned the Abu Sharif paper. On the extremist end of the Palestinian movement, the Abu Nidal group has threatened implicitly to assassinate the author for what is seen as a grave violation of pristine PLO dogma.

SPURNS JORDANIAN ROLE

The Abu Sharif document was first circulated, unsigned, during the Arab summit earlier this month in Algiers. Later it was communicated to the U.S. government and to various news media as authored by Abu Sharif, who is a close aide and spokesman for Arafat.

The document spurns a Jordanian role in the peace process. But it holds out the prospect of direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO, and the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state, living at peace alongside Israel.

Israeli official reactions to date have been largely dismissive. Premier Yitzhak Shamir said it “contains nothing new.” An aide to the premier described it as “cleverly written with an American audience in mind.”

Abu Sharif, in his paper, is careful not to distinguish between the Israeli parties, urging talks with whichever side is elected in November.

“We are ready to talk to Mr. Shimon Peres’ Labor Alignment, and Mr. Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud bloc, or anyone else the Israelis choose to represent them,” he writes.

On the settlement issue, Abu Sharif writes that the Palestinians want “lasting peace for themselves and the Israelis, because no one can build his own future on the ruins of another’s.”

“The means by which the Israelis want to achieve lasting peace and security is by direct talks, with no attempt by any outside party to impose or veto a settlement. The Palestinians agree,” he writes. “The key to a Palestinian-Israeli settlement lies in talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

The only reason, Abu Sharif continues, that the PLO has not publicly accepted U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 is because “neither resolution says anything about the national rights of the Palestinian people.”

Abu Sharif also responds to the Israeli “fear that a Palestinian state would be a threat to its neighbor.” He writes that the Palestinians “would be open to the idea of a brief, mutually accepted transitional period during which an international mandate would guide the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Beyond that, the Palestinians would accept — indeed insist on — international guarantees for the security of all states in the region… including the deployment of a United Nations buffer force on the Palestinian side of the border.”

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