JERUSALEM (May. 7)
The Palestine Liberation Organization, ostracized by much of the Arab world for supporting Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf War, is once again winning Arab support for its bid to participate in Middle East peace negotiations.
This development has significance in view of U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s decision to return to the region this week for another attempt to get Arabs and Israelis to agree on a peace conference.
Baker is now likely to be told by Arab leaders that any peace conference must include the PLO.
Mahmoud Abbas, who is in charge of the PLO’s “Israel desk,” reportedly got a warm reception when he visited Cairo and Amman this week at the head of a delegation of senior PLO officials.
Egypt, a member of the U.S.-led coalition that fought Iraq, seems to have forgiven the PLO for backing its erstwhile foe.
According to the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, the Egyptians have reverted to their pre-Gulf crisis role as go-between for the PLO and United States, whose brief dialogue was suspended last year.
They have accepted Baker’s initiative, on condition that the PLO be included in a regional peace conference.
PALESTINIANS TAKING HARD LINE
Yediot Achronot quoted Palestinian sources to the effect that Egypt is convinced the Israelis will not cooperate, regardless of whether the PLO has a role in the peace process. Therefore, it decided to rehabilitate the PLO.
Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, reportedly had a successful visit in Amman, where he met Sunday with King Hussein.
The Jordanian ruler, who also supported Iraq, had long ago given up on the PLO as a reliable partner in negotiations with Israel.
But he seems to have changed his mind.
A senior government source in Amman said the PLO would have to participate in a Palestinian delegation, because it “has the sole right to represent the future needs of the Palestinians.”
When Hussein met with Baker last month, he said Jordan was willing to be part of a joint delegation with the Palestinians, but the decision rested with the PLO.
The Palestinians, aware of their restored respectability in Arab circles, are taking a hard line. Officially, they insist on an independent Palestinian delegation and on the presence of the European Community at a regional conference.
That would give it the aspect of an international conference, which Israel totally rejects. But the Israelis may be amenable to a limited European role if the conference would be no more than a formal prelude to direct talks.
Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy will discuss this with the 12 E.C. foreign ministers when he visits Brussels this week.