JERUSALEM (Oct. 27)
The Palestine Liberation Organization seems to have nothing to lose and much to gain from its unprecedented involvement in Israel’s election campaign.
Whatever the outcome of next Tuesday’s voting, the PLO is likely to emerge with an improved image among Israeli Arabs; even, perhaps, among some Jews; and most importantly, in world opinion.
The PLO seeks to shake off its identification with terrorism and appear as a legitimate political movement with whom it is possible to negotiate.
Its message is that a terrorist organization, after all, would hardly encourage its supporters to work for political change in Israel in order to pave the way for negotiations.
This is precisely what the PLO has been doing. Only a week before the elections, two PLO leaders, Abu Mazen and Khaled el-Hassan, urged Israeli Arabs to vote for the “forces of peace.”
They mentioned no specific party, but allowed for a wide range of choice — from the Hadash Communists on the extreme left to Shinui in the center.
All of those parties favor an international conference for Middle East peace, which is the goal of the PLO.
Of course, its notion of a conference differs sharply from that of say, Shimon Peres’ Labor Party.
But any kind of international conclave is abhorrent to Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud party and the parties to its right.
The PLO also believes that encouragement of the “positive elements” within the Israeli public will, if successful, lead to direct Israeli-PLO negotiations, though even the Labor Party has vowed not to talk to the PLO.
WANTS MODERATE GOVERNMENT
On the face of it, the PLO wants a moderate government in Israel with which it may be able to reach some sort of understanding.
It wants to use the upcoming elections as a tool to change Israel from within, an alternative to the armed struggle which nevertheless remains on the Palestinian agenda.
But some Israeli analysts believe that by urging Israelis to vote for the left, the PLO will scare off potential Labor voters, who will support the right-wing parties out of fear of a possible deal with the PLO.
That, according to some theorists, is what the PLO in fact wants. They believe a rightist government in Israel would find it easier to negotiate with the PLO, with a cooperative leftist opposition, rather than the other way around, so the theory goes. There is no way to tell what the PLO is really after when it encourages Israeli Arabs to “vote left.” But it hardly matters.
The PLO’s advice is not likely to change existing voting patterns on the Israeli left.
The change will be if Israeli Arabs and perhaps Jews perceive the PLO as a legitimate negotiating partner instead of a terrorist organization.
Good showings Tuesday by the Communists and the Progressive List for Peace — the two Israeli parties closest to the PLO — would be perceived as a gain for the PLO in its struggle with the forces of Moslem fundamentalism, in Israel and the administered territories.
PLO activists here and abroad have long feared that Moslem fanatics will take over the Palestinian movement. They have legitimate cause for concern.
Meanwhile, two incidents occurred in the Israeli Arab town of Shfaram Wednesday which indicate that PLO militants who prefer armed struggle to negotiations have not given up.
Street walls, the local mosque and a church were covered with graffiti proclaiming a Palestinian state, hailing the Palestinian uprising and declaring “Palestine is Arab.”
Later Wednesday, a gasoline bomb was thrown at an oil truck. Fortunately, it did not ignite. Police are searching for the perpetrator.