JERUSALEM (Sep. 26)
Enraged right-wing politicians demanded Thursday that the Israeli government take swift legal action against two Palestinian leaders who attended the Palestine National Council’s meeting in Algiers this week.
“They are spitting in our face,” said Eliahu Ben-Elissar of Likud, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
He was referring to Faisal Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi, who defied the Israeli government’s refusal to allow Palestinians to attend the meeting of their so-called parliament-in-exile.
For the government to ignore their provocation could lead to more far-reaching and significant concessions, Ben-Elissar warned.
Israeli law forbids contacts with terrorist organizations, in which category it places the PNC’s constituents, including the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Housing Minister Ariel Sharon said the government made a big “mistake” by allowing the two Palestinian leaders to have contacts with the PLO.
Israel has prosecuted Jewish citizens for such violations. But political observers believe Husseini and Ashrawi could escape trial.
As ostensible representatives of Palestinians living under Israeli administration, they went to the PNC meeting to try to convince the Palestinian leadership to agree to the regional peace conference the United States and Soviet Union hope to convene next month.
The two have met several times with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker to discuss Palestinian participation in the peace conference and the direct talks that would follow.
TEHIYA COULD QUIT GOVERNMENT
Reports from Algiers Thursday indicated the two emissaries had a degree of success after outlining Washington’s assurances and ideas at a closed-door meeting with PLO leader Yasir Arafat.
One report said the explication of the U.S. position even changed the minds of some Palestinian hard-liners, who prefer armed struggle to diplomacy.
The PNC was expected to vote on the issue late Thursday.
Although government officials here said Husseini and Ashrawi would be subjected to the due process of law, they may in fact escape its full weight owing to their extensive contacts with Secretary Baker. They were expected to meet with him again in Washington before returning to Jerusalem.
But their status with the Americans does not impress the Israeli right. Science and Energy Minister Yuval Ne’eman of Tehiya said he would bring up their case at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.
Tehiya is opposed to Israeli participation in peace talks with the Palestinians. A growing body of opinion within the party favors its secession from the Likud-led coalition if that occurs.
Tehiya’s defection presumably would be followed by that of the Tsomet and Moledet factions, depriving Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government of seven Knesset votes.
Faced with trying to govern with a paperthin margin, Shamir might well dissolve the Knesset and call for early elections. That would put the peace conference in limbo for months.