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Australia to Continue Talks with PLO in Move Criticized by Jewish Leaders

Australia’s Jewish community has reacted angrily to the government’s decision last week to continue its dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Gareth Evans, the minister of foreign affairs and trade, announced last Thursday that although the government condemned the terrorist attack against Israel attempted May 30 by a PLO constituent group, it would not break off its dialogue with the PLO, begun in the 1970s and upgraded 18 months ago.

While “the present circumstances call for careful consideration of the level of such contacts and the formality of their context, I do not think it would be appropriate to turn the clock back by 17 or 18 years,” Evans said.

The Australian decision came a day after President Bush announced that the United States was suspending its dialogue with the PLO until it condemned the May 30 attack and disciplined Mohammed (Abul) Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, which carried out the terrorist operation.

But Evans, who is a member of the Australian Senate, said that “despite the 30 May attack and the PLO’s refusal to condemn it, we continue to believe at this stage that important elements of the PLO are committed to renouncing terrorism and to searching for a lasting settlement in the Middle East.”

Leslie Caplan, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, criticized the move by the government, saying it risks its own credibility unless it heeds calls to end the contacts.

“Unless Australia and other Western nations send a clear message to the PLO that it has not met the minimal requirements for participation in the peace process, it is reasonable to expect that terrorism will continue and terrorists become emboldened,” Caplan said in an interview.

Jewish leaders are to meet with the prime minister next month to discuss a number of matters of serious concern. Contact with the PLO will be “high on the agenda,” Caplan said.

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