JERUSALEM (Jan. 30)
Unprecedented meetings between an Israeli official and supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization may not have achieved a political breakthrough.
But they have triggered a new angry debate between left and right in Israel over Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s attempts to sell his idea of elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israeli official, who acknowledged he is working on behalf of Rabin, is Shmuel Goren, coordinator of government affairs in the administered territories.
He met Monday with 10 influential Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, among them Moslem radicals and strong supporters of the PLO. It was Goren’s second meeting with pro-PLO activists from the territories this month.
A week ago, Goren held talks at Kfar Yonah prison, near Netanya, with Faisal al-Husseini, a prominent West Bank Palestinian activist associated with Yasir Arafat’s A1 Fatah wing of the PLO.
Their meeting, leaked to the press, set off a storm of criticism on the right, coming as it did a few days before Husseini was released after six months of administrative detention.
COMMENT FROM WASHINGTON
The end of his confinement was taken note of in Washington.
“We welcome his release, as we would the release of all of those under administrative detention in the occupied territories,” State Department spokesman Charles Redman said Monday.
He would not comment on the possibility that Husseini’s release could improve prospects for an Israeli dialogue with local Palestinian leaders.
Likud politicians here are furious over Goren’s contact with Husseini and other PLO supporters.
Many called the meetings “irresponsible” and charged that their very timing fueled the “fire of the intifada,” the Palestinian name for their uprising.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir criticized Rabin’s plan for elections in the territories. He stressed that it was the defense minister’s private initiative and made clear that the only plans to be discussed are plans approved at the Cabinet table.
Shamir insisted that negotiations with the PLO would amount to “surrender to terrorism.”
Among the Gaza Strip Palestinians at the meeting with Goren Monday was Zuhair a-Rayyes, a well-known backer of the PLO and one of the authors of its notorious 1964 Covenant, which calls for the destruction of Israel by armed struggle.
Other participants were trade union leaders and faculty of the local Islamic College, which has been closed by the Israelis since the uprising began 14 months ago.
Goren reportedly made little progress in getting the Palestinians even to consider Rabin’s idea for elections in the territories.
Their reply, apparently dictated by the PLO, was that there is no room for elections unless they lead directly to a solution of the Palestinian problem, which they see as statelessness.
But sources close to Rabin said he was encouraged by the informal responses to his plan. Very few have rejected it outright, he claimed.
Husseini himself was non-committal about Rabin’s plan. While he did not oppose the idea of elections, he has not yet decided to participate in them.
He is expected to spend the next few weeks sounding out Palestinian opinion in the territories, and possibly abroad.
Husseini, who heads the Arab Research Institute in East Jerusalem, is a son of the late Abdul Kader Husseini, one of the Palestinian commanders in Jerusalem during the War for Independence.
(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)