JERUSALEM (Sep. 16)
The return to the West Bank of a Palestinian man deported five years ago may help overcome one of the procedural obstacles to the proposed Middle East peace conference.
If Ali Abu Hilal is named to the projected Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, the thorny issue of Palestinian representation at the peace talks may be solved, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz said Monday.
Israel allowed Abu Hilal to return last week as part of a prisoner exchange deal made with groups in Lebanon. He arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport last Thursday night on the same plane that brought home the remains of slain Israel Defense Force soldier Samir Assad, captured in Lebanon in 1983.
At a news conference after a triumphal return to his native village of Abu Dis, Abu Hilal vowed to continue his political activism and said he would be willing to represent the Palestinians at a peace conference if asked to by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Egyptian government and the PLO reportedly have urged his appointment.
Abu Hilal, then and now a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a PLO constituent group, was deported more than five years ago for anti-Israel activity.
He has since become a member of the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s so-called parliament-in-exile, where he represents the Democratic Front.
Ha’aretz suggested that if Abu Hilal were allowed to serve in the negotiating delegation, he could use his status as a former deportee to represent Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem or the “Palestinian diaspora,” thereby satisfying a key demand of the PLO.
CONCESSIONS FROM ARAFAT POSSIBLE
As the newspaper pointed out, Abu Dis is not within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem drawn by Israel after the city was united in 1967. But it was part of East Jerusalem during the 19 years of Jordanian rule before Israel captured it.
The Arab side therefore could accept a resident of the village as a representative of East Jerusalem Arabs, whereas to the Israelis, he would be a resident of the West Bank.
Israel refuses to allow Arabs from outside the administered territories on the negotiating team, fearing that would constitute implicit recognition of the Palestinians’ “right of return.”
Abu Hilal, having been abroad for more than five years, would be accepted by the Palestinians as a representative of their diaspora.
Inasmuch as he is once more a resident of the West Bank, the Israelis could consider him a representative of the local Palestinian population.
The newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said the current upsurge of PLO-instigated violence, including a botched attempt by seaborne terrorists to attack Nahariya last Friday, may be a sign that PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat is preparing to make diplomatic concessions.
The sources said Arafat always escalates violence in advance of significant political moves.
But according to Israeli sources, the PLO chief had also instructed the local Palestinian leadership, headed by Faisal Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi, to present uncompromising positions to Secretary of State James Baker, whom they were scheduled to meet late Monday, on the issue of representation for East Jerusalem Arabs and diaspora Palestinians.