Shamir’s Meetings with Palestinians Raise Questions About PLO Influence

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s recent talks with Palestinian representatives in the administered territories have touched off a volley of assertions and denials by Israeli leaders, Palestine Liberation Organization officials and the representatives themselves.

The exchange began Monday when an Italian newspaper quoted PLO leader Yasir Arafat as saying that meetings between Palestinians and Israeli officials were taking place and that they had been sanctioned by the PLO.

Shamir vigorously denied that the PLO had anything to do with the talks, though his aides conceded that the Palestinians Shamir met with might be supporters of the PLO.

The PLO’s second-ranking official, Salah Khalaf, then made public the names of four Palestinians who he said met with Shamir. Their names were published in Israeli newspapers Tuesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, one of the Palestinians named confirmed that he met with Shamir several days earlier.

Attorney Jamil a-Tarifi, former deputy mayor of the West Bank town of E1-Bireh, said he had originally planned to meet with Shmuel Goren, the government’s coordinator for the administered territories, but after his arrival at a Jerusalem hotel, he was told he would meet Shamir as well.

“I went, and after 15 minutes he (Goren) told me I have a meeting with the prime minister, so we went there,” Tarifi said at a news conference held at his home.

SAYS HE SUPPORTS THE PLO

Asked whether he supported the PLO, Tarifi replied, “I support the PLO, of course. I think every child in the occupied territories supports the PLO.”

He added that Shamir’s meeting with him showed that Israel is concerned about the Palestinian problem. He said he was prepared to hold further talks if he received a positive signal from Palestinian leaders.

Shamir spokesman Avi Pazner refused to confirm whether Tarifi was among several Palestinians the prime minister consulted about his peace plan.

The other three Palestinians named by Khalaf denied they participated in any talks with the Israeli government.

They were identified as Mahmoud Abu-Zuluf, editor of the East Jerusalem newspaper Al-Kuds; Azzadin al-Aryan, head of the Red Crescent medical society in Ramallah; and Gaza businessman Mansur a-Shawwa.

Khalaf’s decision to disclose the men’s names is being viewed as a sign that the PLO wants to make sure that no contacts take place between Palestinians and the Israeli government without its approval.

But the three denials appear to indicate that there is a limit to the PLO’s influence in the territories. Even with PLO approval, it is still too dangerous for some Palestinians to acknowledge talking with the Israelis. There have been too many who have paid for such cooperation with their lives.

The meetings between Israel and the Palestinians could represent a sign of life for the Israeli government’s embattled peace initiative.

For if the PLO is sanctioning talks with the Israelis, it indicates that the organization may be close to accepting the idea of elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as the plan proposes.

But there are clearly still obstacles to the implementation of the plan.

Tarifi said he told Shamir that Palestinians wanted to know the final status of the territories before agreeing to participate in the proposed elections.

“We are not against elections in principle,” he said, “but we want to know where we will arrive after these elections.”

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