JERUSALEM (Feb. 15)
A secret meeting of key Labor Party and Mapam figures with prominent Arab supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization Tuesday night drew sharply mixed reactions when it became known here Wednesday.
The meeting lasted two hours and was held on neutral ground, the Notre Dame hostel on the boundary between East and West Jerusalem.
To many observers, it was a welcome advance in the recent trend of moderate Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other.
But the Likud Knesset faction denounced it fiercely as part of a Labor Party campaign to “rehabilitate” the PLO.
The Labor participants were the party’s Knesset whip, Haim Ramon, and Haim Zadok, a former minister of justice.
They were joined by Yair Tsaban and Elazar Granot, present and former Knesset members, respectively, of the opposition Mapam party.
All said they attended the meeting as individuals and were not representing their parties.
The Palestinian group was headed by activist Faisal Husseini, only recently released from six months’ administrative detention.
He was accompanied by Sari Nusseibeh, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, and Palestinian journalist Ziyyad Abu-Ziyyad.
The meeting is being viewed as a continuation of a process that began when Husseini was visited in jail by Shmuel Goren, coordinator of government affairs in the administered territories, shortly before his release.
The visit, unusual in itself, seemed to confer on Husseini the status of a senior spokesmen for Palestinians in the West Bank and possibly one who could participate in serious talks with Israeli leaders.
Goren, in fact, was said to have acted at the initiative of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who has called for local elections by which Palestinians would choose their leaders.
Husseini reputedly differs with the PLO on some issues, but he poured cold water on the elections idea soon after he got out of jail by saying that the PLO represented the Palestinians and no local leadership could substitute for it.
Husseini and Nusseibeh also minimized the importance of Tuesday’s meeting, saying it was a matter of “routine” to exchange ideas and consider ways to solve the Palestinian problem.
The Israeli participants hoped the meeting would lead to more talks between Israeli leaders and Palestinians.
Ramon said he told the Palestinians that elections could break the present deadlock and hinted that Israel would not mind if the PLO gave its prior approval.
But Likud Knesset members were furious. At a stormy caucus Wednesday, they charged that “Ramon and his friends were playing into the hands of the PLO in its plan of deception.”
Likud demanded that the government enforce the guidelines which forbid any contact with the PLO.